My posting day is here, and yay! despite all obstacles I have something to post. Infinite thanks to the fabulous edenfalling, who read this for me at the last possible minute. She gives the best feedback! A few of the best jokes are hers, too — I’ll let you try to figure out which ones.
Title: A Walk In the Woods
Rating: PG at worst
Length: 4400 words
Summary: Buffy needs new shoes, but Spike has dragged her out for a hike and a picnic instead. Can any possible good come of this?
Author’s note: This is a sequel to my 2007 Seasonal Spuffy story A Cup of Kindness, although there’s no need to read that one for this to make sense.
Disclaimer: These characters aren’t mine, although I love them almost as if they were.
A Walk In the Woods
“Spike and Buf-fy, sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G…”
“Shut up, Spike,” Buffy said. Once again she wriggled her shoulders, trying to move her backpack into a comfortable position. The pack wasn’t all that heavy, really, but the straps kept digging into her shoulders.
Now Spike was humming “This Land Is Your Land.” Buffy wondered if she shouldn’t have let him stick with the “sitting in a tree” rhyme.
There certainly were plenty of trees around, should they have wished to sit in one. For the past half hour they’d been walking downhill (harder on the leg muscles than you’d expect, especially when you’d gotten used to sitting at a desk forty hours a week) through a forest of trees that Spike had identified variously as coast live oak, bigleaf maple, madrone, Douglas fir, and now coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, the tallest tree on earth. They were tall, all right. She could barely make out their tops in the fading twilight.
Spike was such a fucking show-off.
Not that it wasn’t pretty here. Even Buffy could appreciate the peace and serenity of nature. She just appreciated the mall more. Macy’s was having a huge “midsummer night’s madness” sale this weekend, with a special late closing time, and she had a coupon for an additional eleven percent off. And all of her nice work shoes had nasty-looking scuffs on the toes and big ugly dings in the heels.
But Spike had somehow managed to drag her on this hike. She was in a funk because Dawn was away for the summer, he said. She needed to get out of the empty nest, he said, get some fresh night air, stretch those gorgeous legs — legs that were now on the verge of cramping up badly.
It wasn’t as if she’d let herself go completely. She worked out in the company gym at lunchtime every day — unless she had a lunch date or a work crisis, which seemed to be happening more and more often. And she still patrolled at least once a week. But the level of demonic activity in Silicon Valley was so low that it sometimes seemed like a waste of time. She wasn’t sure if it was because of the Hellmouth closing, or if the local demons had all gone into venture capital. In any case, although she could still count on her Slayer strength and coordination, she wasn’t in the peak shape she’d maintained in Sunnydale. And she sure wasn’t used to steady downhill hiking.
Buffy swatted at a mosquito and wished she’d worn jeans instead of shorts. The day had been hot, but it was chilly in the woods at night, and more exposed skin meant a bigger target for flying bloodsuckers. She pointed her homemade night-vision flashlight (made by stretching red holiday Glad wrap over the lens) down the trail.
“Where is this perfect picnic spot you promised me, Spike? ‘Cause, honestly, I’d be perfectly happy to sit down and eat right here.” Also, if they turned around now, she could make it back before the mall closed.
Spike stopped humming and peered down the dim trail. “Not much further, love,” he said. “We should be coming to a little bridge soon, and then we pass the big boulder, and then there we’ll be.”
Buffy kicked at the decaying plant matter covering the path and glared at Spike’s back. If they didn’t stop soon, she was going to go back and eat the picnic in the car by herself.
“Here’s the bridge!” Spike called back to her. She heard the hollow thump of boots on wood as he started to cross.
From the river came a splash, a crash, and a noise like a broken vacuum cleaner. Then a voice boomed out from underneath the planks: “WHO STOMPS OVER MY BRIDGE?”
Spike stopped short, halfway across the bridge.
Buffy walked a little faster. “Spike?” she called. “Is that a troll?”
Spike grinned and put his finger to his lips. Then he called out in a faux-tremulous voice, “It is only I, William the Bloody. Who are you?”
The voice yelled back, “I AM OSKAR THE TROLL, AND I’M COMING TO EAT YOU UP!”
“Oh, don’t do that, good troll,” Spike cried. “I’m just a thin little vampire who’s drunk nothing but pig’s blood for months and months. I’d barely fill your belly. Why don’t you wait for the Slayer? She’s right behind me, and she’ll be much, much tastier.” He ran across the bridge to the other bank.
By flashlight, Buffy saw the troll clamber over the bridge railing as Spike beckoned her toward him. So typical — as usual, he was leaving the dirty work for her. With a sigh, she put down the backpack — no sense risking their picnic — broke off a good-sized sapling, and made for the bridge. As her sneaker hit the planking, the troll lumbered toward her, howling, “WHO SQUEAKS OVER MY BRIDGE?”
“I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” she answered, “and I suggest you run back to your lair or whatever, because I am so not in the mood for this.”
The creature took another step. “THE HELL WITH THAT. I’M OSKAR THE TROLL, AND I’M GOING TO EAT YOU UP!”
Stupid trolls never took advice, even when it was for their own good.
Buffy swung the sapling like a baseball bat at the troll’s head and heard the bony crunch as it connected. She whacked him again, in the midsection this time, and the troll’s unconscious body flew off the bridge into the river. She could see it in the moonlight, floating away downstream. He’d probably be back under the bridge by morning, but that was the Park Service’s problem, not hers.
Spike ran back to her.
“Thanks for the back-up, Spike,” she said sarcastically. “What if he’d been a super-troll like Olaf?”
“Wasn’t expecting you to fight him,” Spike answered. “If you’d just told him there was a big, tasty hell-god right behind you, he’d have let you pass. Didn’t your mum ever read you fairy tales?”
“Oh. Right.” How could Spike be making her feel stupid when she’d just defeated a troll? “Anyway, it’s your turn to carry the pack.”
“Fair enough.” Spike walked back to where she’d dropped the backpack and shrugged it onto his narrow shoulders. “Nice work with the tree,” he added as he caught up with her.
Slightly mollified, she followed him up the trail. As Spike had promised, they passed a huge, jagged boulder covered with moss and strange fungi. As they rounded another bend, Buffy was almost sure she saw a little house behind the trees. A ranger’s cottage, maybe? But then why would it be up on stilts — stilts that looked distinctly like chicken legs, complete with claws on the bottom?
Nobody at work ever talked about things like this when they came back from their camping weekends.
Finally they reached Spike’s picnic spot. Grudgingly, Buffy admitted to herself that it was lovely. Redwoods ringed the clearing; tiny violet-like flowers grew all across the forest floor, and a full moon was rising in the darkening sky. The picnic was delicious. When they were fully stuffed, they stretched out on their blanket and watched the stars come out.
Buffy turned to Spike. “How did you know about this place?”
“Erm — well — I worked as a sort of ranger here for a bit.”
Presumably the sort of ranger who ate stragglers on long hikes. There was probably a good story in it, though. “Details, please.”
“Details are a bit fuzzy.” Spike still lay on his back, gazing at the night sky. “It was back in ‘sixty-seven or ‘sixty-eight, see, and what with one thing and another, I was pretty high most of the time. As best I can remember, we were staying in a fleabag hotel in Palo Alto —“
“There were fleabag hotels in Palo Alto?” Buffy interjected. “You can’t even get lunch there for less than thirty bucks now.”
“With genuine fleas. We were watching Yogi Bear on the telly, and Drusilla decided she couldn’t wait another minute before visiting Jellystone. Couldn’t tell her there was no such place, could I?” Spike rolled toward her and propped himself up on one elbow. “So I brought her down here instead. We, uh, borrowed some ranger uniforms, hung around the campfire long enough to pick up some lore, made up the rest as we went along. Got quite popular after a while. Our night hikes were legendary. Hippies would hitch rides all the way down from San Francisco just to hear Dru talk.” He lay back and smiled reminiscently up at the stars.
“How many of them made it back to San Francisco?” Buffy sat up and hugging her knees to her chest. She wasn’t usually this nonchalant about Spike’s evil past — or stories that involved Drusilla — but tonight, for some reason, it didn’t bother her. It all felt like a fairy tale, or maybe a dream.
“Most of ‘em.” Spike turned to smile at her. “Dru was always gracious to her audience. Anyway, we’d catch the odd deer, sometimes a mountain lion. It made a change. And I liked it here — the peace and quiet. Didn’t want to muck up a good thing, did I?”
“S’pose not,” Buffy replied sleepily. “Was the troll here back then? And the little house on chicken legs?”
Spike’s only response was a snore.
Buffy shivered. It was getting chillier and damper by the minute. Spike could be such a jerk. She couldn’t believe he’d dragged her all the way out here and then fallen asleep.
She was a little tired herself, though. In fact, she couldn’t keep her eyes open another moment. Still shivering, she curled up on her side and fell asleep.
* * *
Some hours later, Buffy awoke to moonlight shining into her eyes through a heavy fog. She couldn’t see much else — the fog made everything look wavery, and her eyes were watering. She rolled over to make sure Spike was still there.
No question, it was Spike. Yet there was something different about his face. Were his ears a bit perkier, perhaps? His nose a bit longer? Whatever it was, the difference suited him. He’d never looked so handsome to her.
Spike rolled toward her, muttering something that sounded vaguely like “hold the oats.” She shook his arm.
“Spike, wake up! Everything’s all wet from the fog, and I’m freezing!”
He pushed himself up on an elbow and opened his eyes. How had she missed noticing what long lashes he had? Although she didn’t remember his eyes being such a lovely, deep shade of brown. Hadn’t they been some other, brighter color? But it didn’t matter. He was totally yummy. How could she have been so annoyed at him earlier in the evening? Spike was the perfect man.
“Spike, darling, won’t you please hold me close? I’m cold.” Spike pulled her to his chest and then wrapped the damp blanket around them.
“Brr! Should’ve remembered our jackets. I’d forgotten how cold it gets here, nights.” His voice was deeper and more magnetic than it had ever sounded. “Let’s warm up a bit, shall we?” He nibbled playfully at her ear. His kisses were intoxicating, yet oddly — wet. Spike had never been a slobberer; that was one of the things she liked about him. Nevertheless, he was irresistible.
As she moved to kiss his full lips, she noticed some strange creatures buzzing about Spike’s head. They were either extremely large dragonflies, very small birds, or —
“Hey, Tinkerbells, stay away from my guy!” Buffy swatted at the tiny, winged human forms. They giggled.
“We’re just here to help!” one of them said squeakily.
“We’ll bring you honeydew and wild roses and scratch you behind the ears!” said another.
“Our role is to serve!” said the third.
“Got a sweater handy?” Buffy asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you!” said the first fairy. “We’re just here for your mulish friend.”
Spike glared at the fairies, as much as those mild brown eyes could glare. “Then find my lady a warm garment!” he commanded.
“And don’t talk about my sweetie like that!” Buffy added. “Unbelievable — no matter how stubborn you can be sometimes, they had no right to call you —“
Wait. She took a better look at Spike. The eyes, the ears, the muzzle —
“Spike,” she said. “Someone’s stuck a donkey’s head on you.”
Carefully Spike patted his head with his hands.
“Bugger,” he said after a moment. “Not exactly the solstice prezzie I was hoping for.”
The fairies giggled again. “Midsummer night, it’s midsummer night, when fools who sleep awake in fright!” they chanted in chorus, then scattered.
“Great. It’s like Halloween in June,” Buffy groused. “I knew I should have gone to that sale.” She must be under some kind of wacky love spell, her brain told her, because ordinarily she was not the least bit attracted to donkeys. But every fiber in her body yearned to touch him, kiss him.
Don’t do it, her brain said. You’re not going to like waking up with dried donkey spit on your face.
Damn those fairies — this had to be their fault. She looked around her for something flat and flexible. Where was a fly swatter when you needed one? Giving up for the moment, she turned back to Spike. “What does the solstice have to do with anything?”
“The summer solstice. Saint John’s Eve. Shortest night of the year. You know, midsummer night.” He spoke as if that explained everything.
“Try harder, sweet- I mean, Spike.” God, he was so damn cute! But she had to be stern. “What do you think is going on here?”
“Didn’t they teach you anything in school? It’s the night of the feast of the Fairy Queen, the goddess of love and fertility. Cattle, too, for some reason. The veil between the worlds thins, strange things happen in the woods, roles are reversed, fairy tales come true, people get stupid, lovers lose their inhibitions — you know, the usual.”
“So this whole hike-and-picnic business was actually an elaborate booty call.” Buffy crossed her arms in what she hoped looked like exasperation. Really, she was just trying to keep herself from jumping into his arms. “You can be such a pig, Spike, even when you’re not — you know — being an ass.”
She caught his eye, and they both started laughing helplessly. It felt good. Why had everything seemed so serious to her lately? An apocalypse-free year should have been the perfect time to relax and be silly. Instead, her job, Dawn’s grades, the dishes — things that had always seemed comparatively trivial in Sunnydale — had somehow taken on near-apocalyptic importance.
“I thought we’d have a little adventure,” Spike explained once they’d both caught their breath. “Something a bit romantic, perk things up a bit. Get us out of this dour mood we’ve been in. I wasn’t anticipating a full Shakespearean re-enactment. We’re in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I’m Bottom.”
“There’s B&D in Shakespeare? Who knew?” Buffy shook her head. “Never mind. Who am I, then? Just don’t say Top.”
Before Spike could answer, she heard a buzzing sound overhead. Two of the fairies were flying toward her, dragging a fleece hoodie through the redwood mulch that covered the ground. They dropped it at Buffy’s feet. She shook off the dirt and looked at it. It was charcoal gray, size XXL, with a Microsoft Vista logo blazoned across the chest. But it was better than hypothermia. She put it on. Maybe the fairies weren’t completely useless.
She poked Spike’s arm, hard. “Ask them to take us to their leader,” she hissed.
“Dear little ladies,” he addressed them, “where be thy mistress, Queen of the Fair Folk, whose name I shall not speak? Or her master’s servant, Robin Goodfellow?”
Gods help me, Buffy thought, that upper-class accent is to die for.
The fairies tittered some more. “Puck, Puck, the lucky duck, he’s busy with his midnight —“
“Enough! I mislike this disrespect.” The voice came from a slightly larger, winged figure — about the size of a duck, in fact, and nearly as rotund, but unmistakably masculine — that was flying toward them. The little female fairies flew up into the redwood branches, still giggling.
The duck-sized fairy landed in front of them. “Who calls on Robin Goodfellow?” he demanded.
Buffy had to suppress a snicker herself. “Is this your idea of a joke?” she asked him, fighting to keep a straight face. “Because I don’t think it’s very funny.”
“But, fair damsel, all enjoy the riotous humor of Puck the Hob Goblin! And surely none would be so foolish as to fall asleep in my wood on this night of all nights, unless they were up for one of my clever japes!”
Buffy glared. “Fine. You’ve had your fun. Now return my boyfriend to his normal state, and while you’re at it, get rid of this spell that’s making me all —“
“Hot for him?” Puck laughed unpleasantly. “It’s not so simple, beautiful lady. The play’s the thing, you see. The action must be completed before the spells are lifted. And it must be done before sunrise.”
Spike sighed a loud, donkeyish sigh. “But that’s impossible. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has at least nine major characters, not including yourself, Sir Goodfellow. There’s no way the two of us can play out the whole story.”
“You know the play?” Buffy asked. “Oh, of course — classical education.” Every now and then, Spike’s well-concealed human past came in handy.
“Bloody right I know it,” Spike said, ears twitching. “Studied it as a lad, didn’t I, starting with Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, and I’ve seen the play performed more times than I can count, man and monster. It’s an unusual triple construction — a play within a play framed by a third, mostly separate story. But they all come together at the end.”
Now donkey-Spike was talking like Giles, which was simply disturbing given how attractive she still found him. Maybe identity shift was another effect of the solstice. Whatever — if it helped them figure their way out of this mess, it was fine. As long as it wasn’t permanent.
”Only our roles are all bollixed up,” Spike went on, sounding a bit more like himself. “I’m Bottom, so you should be Titania, the fairy queen, who’s ensorcelled into falling in love with me. But if you were Titania, those snippy little fairies would’ve been your servants. So you must be someone else.”
“Hmmm.” Buffy snuggled into the Microsoft sweatshirt. The urge to fling herself on donkey-Spike and rip his clothes off was subsiding to a fairly manageable ache. Someone was so going to pay when this was all over. “So who else could I be?”
“Hee, hee, hee! I’ll just tell you, it’s not me!” Puck taunted them.
“Cut it out, duck boy,” Buffy said. “What’s your deal, anyway? You don’t sound very Shakespearean.”
Puck looked sorrowfully at the ground. “We fairies are remnants of another time and place. We live in the mental echoes of those around us. Decades of neglect of the Bard’s writings in the California public school system have robbed us of our ability to speak the English of good queen Bess, and soon we may disappear altogether.”
No great loss, Buffy thought, but restrained herself from saying it. Puck did look awfully sad. Then again, her Birkenstock-wearing co-worker Menora was always yammering about the big Shakespeare festival in Santa Cruz, so maybe he was just putting her on.
Spike had been thinking. “We’ve already ruled out Titania. There’s Thisbe, of the play within a play, but she’s only one of the rude mechanicals, so I doubt she’s the one. Also, she dies, so we definitely don’t want her. Then there’s jealous Helena, who betrays her friend Hermia to Demetrius the jerk, and Hermia, the heroine, who’s running away with Lysander.”
Buffy shook her head. “None of those sound right. What about the third plot?”
Spike closed his adorable donkey eyes. “Right, the framing plot. That’s the marriage of Theseus, duke of Athens, to Hippolyta — that’s it! You’re Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, who fell in love with Theseus as they fought each other for their lives. The play’s last act centers on their wedding.”
“Fabulous. I’m the character with ‘Hippo’ in her name.”
“Buffy, love, you’re the Amazon queen. You’re you. I’m the berk with the ass’s head.”
Buffy put her arms around Spike and leaned into him. “No. You’re my champion, the duke of destruction who stole my heart on the battlefield.” She smiled into his chest. “Ass’s head or head up your ass, I love you. But I think we should do what we need to do to get your real head back.”
“Well then, I suppose — we get married.”
“Now?” Buffy jumped back. Enchanted or not, she loved Spike, but this wasn’t the proposal she’d dreamed of.
Puck bustled up self-importantly. “I see you’ve cracked the code. Yes, for purposes of the play only, you two must marry each other. I’m empowered to officiate in the state of California. Then you forgive everyone —“
“Even the troll?” Buffy asked.
“Even the troll. Then you watch a really bad play, applaud politely, and go home to bed. While you’re asleep I disenchant you, bless you, and promise that your kids won’t have any birth defects. You wake up in your own bed and it all seems like a dream.”
Buffy glared at the fairy and then eyed Spike dubiously. He shrugged. “Nothing says we have to tell anyone, Slayer, and we can always get a quickie divorce if you want. But bollocks if I’m going to spend the rest of my unlife with a donkey’s head!”
Fairy gold was supposed to fade in the morning light. A fairy marriage probably wouldn’t be any more substantial. Even if it did last, would marrying Spike really be that awful?
“Fine. I’m a girl named Hippo-something with a Vista hoodie for a wedding gown. Let’s get married.”
* * *
Buffy woke much too early, trying to shield her eyes from the sunlight that leaked around the slats of the aluminum mini-blinds on the window. Spike had already taken his pillow and escaped to the shady side of the room. He was sound asleep on the floor.
What day of the week was it? Saturday, no rush to get up. Dawn was away. They could do . . . whatever they wanted. For as long as they wanted. But what was that strange dream she’d had? Something in the woods, with goats crossing a bridge, and tiny fairies doing a really bad vaudeville act. And herself and Spike being themselves and not themselves at the same time. It didn’t have the feeling of a prophetic Slayer dream, yet there was something more than ordinary about it.
And what could have brought it on? After a silly argument over whether to go shopping or hiking, she and Spike had wound up spending a quiet night in front of the TV, with a picnic on the coffee table and an early bedtime. Pleasant, but surely one of the most boring nights ever. They really needed to get out more.
Spike opened his blue eyes and smiled up at her. “Oi, Slayer, want to get out of that sunshine and come over here with me?”
“Sure.” She grabbed her pillow and the comforter and joined Spike on the floor. “I should probably move the bed to this side of the room.”
“It’s only a problem at midsummer. Nothing we can’t work around.” He kissed her, and she forgot about the dream for a while.
But when she got up to go to the bathroom, she noticed a strange sweatshirt on the floor. It was a microfleece hoodie, much too large for her or Spike, with a hideous Microsoft logo on the chest. Xander’s, maybe. But there were bits of what looked like dried-out pine needles on it. And, glancing out into the living room, she could see a light trail of dirt leading from the front door to the shower. Weird.
When she snuggled back under the comforter with Spike, Buffy couldn’t stop thinking about the dream. There was something else, too — something she’d been avoiding talking about, but maybe now was the time.
“Spike,” she began tentatively.
He turned to look at her. “Yes, love.”
“You know how I was complaining last night that we’ve been acting like a boring old married couple?”
“Well, do you ever think about it? I mean, about really being — that?”
“Being what? Boring? Never. Old? Bit late for me to start worrying about that.”
She bopped him with her pillow. “Not those! The other thing.”
Very gently, Spike touched her hair, and his lips curved into a small smile. “Think about it all the time. Daily. Didn’t want to bring it up, though. Does the thought horrify you so much?”
“Horrify me? No!”
“It’s just that you looked so scared just now.”
“I was afraid you’d laugh at me.” Why were there suddenly stupid tears in her stupid eyes?
“I’d never laugh about that.”
“So you don’t — you might not — mind? Just talking about it sometime?”
Spike gathered her to him, and she rested her head on his body. “No, love,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind.” He stroked his hand lightly from the back of her head all the way down her back.
“I’ve always kind of wanted a church wedding,” Buffy mused, “even though I’m not really religious. Do you think we could find — I mean, if we decided we wanted to — is there even a preacher who’d marry us?”
“No problem. We’d just find ourselves a nice Unitarian,” Spike said. “Not much for crosses, and they’ll marry anybody.”
“Good to know.” She rested her head against him for another moment, then jumped up. “Come on, Spike, this floor is too hard. Let’s have some breakfast.” She almost skipped to the kitchen to start the coffee and heat up Spike’s mug of blood. They could spend the whole morning together, and then she’d have all afternoon at the mall. And then —
“Maybe you were right last night,” she called to Spike. “We need to spend more time outside. When it starts getting dark this evening, let’s go for a little walk in the woods.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/286678.html