The sun began its slow decent in the Pleistocene sky, and the small army prepared for battle. Two Dinofelis, one Mammoth, one Woolly Rhino, one Giant Hyena, two Smilodons, and one Dire Wolf spoke in quiet tones, confirming their plans. There was just one thing that none of them had counted on.
“It’s REALLY dim. Look at it,” Dawn said worriedly, lifting her amulet with a paw. In the four day rush to reach the Neanderthal camp, no one had noticed how drastically the amulet had dimmed. No one had even really looked at it since that night in the volcano caves.
“Buggerin’ hell,” Spike muttered, glaring at the amulet. “We don’t have much time at all… N’I’m too worried ‘bout Little Will to focus on where we are. Buffy?”
The Smilodon cocked her head, then shook it. “I FEEL the Hellmouth, but… It’s either so close I can’t tell, or… something those creepy guys down there are doing is throwing me off.”
Spike nodded. “That’s pretty much what I’m feelin’, too.” He paced to the edge of the rise and peered down at the Neanderthal camp. The makeshift cages the Protohippus and Dire Wolf pup were in, were in plain sight of the center of the camp. The fire in the center seemed to be the focus of the twenty or so Neanderthal males that crowded around it, though. Maybe they’d be able to break the animals out without even alerting the pseudo-humans. Spike said as much.
“Luv, you and I could probably sneak down there, open the cages, n’let the animals out ‘fore those knuckle-draggers even notice what we’re doin’,” he finished with a swish of his tail.
“Whatever you say, Spike,” Buffy said with a slight Smilodon version of a smile at him. “After all, it is your kid we’re going down there to rescue.”
“If either of you get into any trouble,” Giles said worriedly, looming over them as only a Mammoth can. “Just give us a roar or a howl, and we’ll be down there in-”
“Two shakes of a Mammoth’s tail,” Xander finished with a smirk, then nimbly danced to one side, avoiding the pachyderm’s gentle trunk swipe.
“Yes. Something like that, at least,” the Watcher acquiesced, a small smile in his voice. After all, this group had faced down a Hell Goddess. How could a pack of twenty or so Neanderthals be any worse?
Spike and Buffy began to make their way down the hill, slinking side by side until they were too close to the camp to risk their own nearness. At that moment, they shared a short nuzzle before parting ways, Buffy heading for the corral-like cage that held the Protohippus, and Spike working his way closer to the fire to free his ‘son’.
Spike’s job was made much more difficult by the fact that the Neanderthals were attempting to acclimate the wolf pup to the scents and sights of the human camp. As a result, they had moved his cage just outside the ring of firelight where they were gathered. Rhythmic grunts and other noises came from the ‘people’ gathered around the fire, but they remained oblivious to the adult male Dire Wolf slowly slinking through the outer edges of the camp.
Buffy, on the other hand, was able to reach the Protohippus corral rather easily. Almost too easily. Had she been dealing with Glory, or some other Big Bad back home in Sunnydale, she would’ve been far more cautious. But this was just some primitive human beings, and their semi-horses. She wasn’t particularly worried. And, in not being worried, she made her first mistake.
Spike, meanwhile, had made it almost to his son’s cage, and whispered in quiet thought to the pup, careful not to allow his body to make any noises of it’s own. “Little Will… It’s me. It’s… it’s your dad, mate. Try n’relax, now… I’m almost there. I’ll get you out…”
The pup, hearing the now familiar voice, whined softly, and the Neanderthal closest to the cage lightly tapped the bars with a stick, causing the pup to cower away. Spike could see now that what he saw from a distance as a cage was actually ten spears driven into the ground point first, forming a basically impenetrable barrier, especially for a pup as young as Little Will. No door to open, either. The only way to get the pup out would be to pull one of the spears out of the ground, or break it. As option two seemed predestined to failure, (the Neanderthals would’ve had to be deaf not to hear the spear break), Spike chose the first option. He slowly slunk closer in preparation to wrap his jaws around a spear and yank it out of the ground in one smooth move. “Alright, Pup… be ready to run soon as I’ve got this thing…”
As he craned his neck and carefully fitted his mouth around the spear, fully aware that this put his nose INTO the ring of fire light by at least an inch, a sound from somewhere out of a wild west movie nearly shocked him clean out of his skin.
Horses were screaming, Hooves were being panickedly pounded against wood. It sounded as if an all out stampede was beginning in the corral. And it was then that Buffy and Spike, in unison, realized their biggest mistake: They were thinking too much like humans.
When Buffy went to rescue the horses, they didn’t see a savior, they saw a predator trying to get into a place where they were already trapped. Terrified, the first Protohippus to spot the Smilodon had screamed, which set off the rest of the animals in the corral.
Buffy panicked, as much as her Slayer and Smilodon instincts would allow. “Shh! Shut up, you stupid bags of glue! Quiet, before- AH!” A spear arched through the air and buried itself in the ground half a foot in front of Buffy’s paws. Half of the Neanderthals were shouting while tossing spears and rocks at her, while the other half gathered more deadly weapons to dispatch the predator.
”SPIKE!” Buffy shouted, her Smilodon’s voice letting out a roar that made at least some of the Neanderthals freeze for only a moment.
Spike, mere inches from rescuing Little Will, did the only thing he could think of. He threw his head back and howled, trying to make his wolf’s voice sound as deep and menacing as possible. His ruse worked, and the other half of the Neanderthals quickly turned and advanced on him. He growled and raised the hackles down his back, baring his formidable teeth, but still backed away. “Buffy! Get away from ‘em! I’ve got these guys distracted – YIPE – over here!” The yipe mid sentence came from the fact that a spear had just missed Spike’s head by an even narrower margin than one had missed Buffy moments earlier.
However, Buffy’s roar and Spike’s howl had more than the desired effect. Charging down the hill behind them came the cavalry, all five or so tons of it. A Mammoth, a Woolly Rhino, a Giant Hyena, and two Dinofelis barreled down on the camp with a sound like an earthquake. The tide had turned.
Giles trumpeted angrily and proceeded to completely smash one of the mammoth-bone houses that was in construction. Swinging his tusks at the Neanderthals any time they tried to stop him. Spears missed or simply buried in his thick fur, about as effective as a few annoying mosquitoes when it came to stopping the violently angry Mammoth.
Dawn rode atop Anya, shouting directions to the charging Rhino. Though, all too often, the directions weren’t taken quite the way intended.
”Anya! House! House! RIGHT!” CRASH!!
”Where is it? Is it gone!?”, Anya shouted, swinging her head, ears swiveling to face the juvenile Smilodon on her back. “Did we miss it?”
“Uh… Sort of,” the younger Summers replied, smacking away a piece of the aforementioned house with her paw. “It’s definitely gone, anyway… Now go right!”
Meanwhile, Xander, Willow, and Tara were making themselves known. Snarling and growling, they managed to force the group of Neanderthals surrounding Buffy to back down. And, in the process, Xander broke the corral, releasing the Protohippus after all, and adding to the melee as a stampede blasted through the camp.
Meanwhile, Spike had managed to escape from his attackers and was attempting to sneak through the violence back to his pup’s cage. But just as he was within leaping distance, one of the Neanderthals spotted him and, instead of attacking HIM, reached into the cage and lifted the pup out by the scruff of it’s little neck, and held his spear to it’s throat. Spike froze and growled.
The Neanderthal almost smirked at him, in a way that sickeningly reminded him of Angelus. Suddenly, he caught a scent. An incredibly familiar scent. And from the look on Little Will’s face, the pup smelled it too. Instead of attacking, Spike raised his head and let out a long howl. A howl that was answered from the opposite hilltop from where the Scoobies had descended on the camp.
Beauty and the other Wolves flowed over the hill and down into the battle, and Beauty flew toward the Neanderthal threatening her mate and her pup. The Neanderthal panicked, looking at the pure white wolf advancing on him. That instant was all that Spike needed.
He launched himself at the Neanderthal, snatched Little Will out of the primitive person’s grasp, and knocked the man to the ground in the process. Beauty leaped and landed on the fallen Neanderthal, but Spike dropped his pup quick enough to knock Beauty off of him. “NO! We don’t kill anyone! PLEASE, Beauty, luv… You gotta understand me. We don’t KILL ANYONE!”
It seemed as if she understood, for, as the terrified Neanderthal began to crawl away, she didn’t follow him. Instead, she nuzzled her mate before picking up her pup in her mouth and quickly fleeing the scene. Her mate would follow when he was finished with his other pack. She knew that now. He’d risked everything to save her son… They all had. She would never look at those particular animals the same again.
Spike watched her go, then leaped out of his skin at a trumpet of pain from the center of the camp. “RUPERT!” He turned and ran as quickly as he could.
The Mammoth was surrounded by Neanderthals in the center of the camp. The fire was still burning, though it had spread a bit beyond it’s firepit. Giles was still standing, but a spear sticking out of the Mammoth’s thigh was protruding too solidly to simply be stuck in hair.
He swung his tusks menacingly, but couldn’t protect all sides at once, and Spike could see what Rupert couldn’t. Two Neanderthals were sneaking in close with the intent to slice the tendons in his hind legs with their sharp spear points. They were going to hamstring the Mammoth. Spike snarled. There was NO way he was letting that happen. “SCOOBIES! Center of the camp! STAND TOGETHER!”
The code had been Dawn’s idea, and apparently had something to do with the Disney movie “Dinosaur”, but Spike didn’t have any time to contemplate it’s meaning. He leaped clear over the line of Neanderthals and turned so his back was to Giles’ back, baring his fangs and snapping. “Back off, wankers!”
The other Scoobies immediately withdrew from their own fights, and within an instant, were all gathered around Giles, whether they were able to muscle their way through the circle of Neanderthals or whether they had to simply leap over them, they were there, protecting their own. Their family.
The Neanderthals were now faced with something beyond precedent. A Mammoth, a Smilodon, a Dire Wolf, two Dinofelis, a Woolly Rhino, and a Giant Hyena, all standing together, forming an impenetrable wall of fangs, claws, horn and tusks, defending each other from harm. It was a stand off. It was a stalemate.
The two groups glared at each other for a few short moments that seemed to stretch into eternity, even as the sun began to peek over the eastern horizon. Seconds crept into minutes, and no one moved. The only sound was the heavy breathing of the injured Mammoth, and the low growls of his compatriots.
Then, suddenly, the Neanderthals withdrew. They backed away as far as they could, then turned and ran. It was over. The Scoobies had won.
Dawn squealed excitedly and hugged the back of Anya’s head, and then everyone turned to look at Giles, who was still standing up, but his eyes were wrinkled in pain.
”Giles?”, Buffy asked softly, placing a paw on his front leg.
”No, Buffy… I will handle it.” Slowly, the Mammoth curled his own trunk around and wrapped it around the spear, then quickly yanked it from his thigh with a grunting trumpet of pain and tossed it away. The blood matted the fur quickly, and made it difficult to see just how bad the wound actually was. But as Giles shifted his weight onto and off of that leg, while everyone else watched him in worried silence, the pain seemed to ease. Finally, Giles breathed a soft sigh of relief. “Skin only, I believe… It doesn’t seem to have gone deep enough to cause any lasting damage.”
The surge of relief was palpable, and everyone immediately swarmed the Watcher, nuzzling and offering support and praise for his bravery. It was a classic ‘post end-of-world’ party, much like the ones they’d had after every near-apocalypse since the beginning of the Scooby Gang. Every averted apocalypse, that is, except the last one. There had been nothing to celebrate after losing Buffy. In this moment, though, it seemed that the last vestiges of the pain from that long summer were finally lifted from the group as a whole. Everyone could breathe again. Weights they hadn’t even known they’d had were lifted, and once more they were all together.
Dawn smiled her little Smilodon smile, looking at her family. And finally, they all WERE a family. From Buffy and Spike, FINALLY a couple, to Xander and Anya, who would be married before the end of the year and be her aunt and uncle even more than they were now, to Giles, a father figure to them all, and finally to Willow and Tara, her aunts who she loved more now than ever. They were a family… A real family. And it finally seemed to Dawn that there was enough time at last.
Suddenly, though, everyone felt their stomachs lurch at once. A sick, dizzy feeling washed over them, and Dawn suddenly realized that the amulet around her neck had FINALLY stopped glowing. The spell was broken… But… where WERE they!? Where would they end up…
One at a time, they all felt the disconcerting sensation of being without physical bodies as their spirits, their very essences were lifted from the animals they had inhabited for so long, and slowly pulled into the air. But, instead of the swirling maelstrom that had greeted their initial decent into this incredible ancient world, they could still SEE the animals beneath them.
They could see the Smilodon and Dire Wolf, nuzzling only moments before, now regarding each other with mistrust and barely contained violence before the Smilodon scooped up her cub in her mouth and took off at a run. The wolf raised his head and howled, then headed quickly off in the direction of the answering howl, returning to his pack.
The pair of Dinofelis hissed viciously at the Giant Hyena, who snickered at them and bared his teeth, but he knew better than to threaten a pair of cats like that while he was on his own. It was only a moment before he too turned and ran, as the Dinofelis took off in opposite directions.
The Mammoth stood there placidly, knowing he was far too large to worry about the predators milling about underfoot, and absently used his trunk to prod the wound on his side. It would heal in time for his next musth, and he would be healthy and fit when it came time to seek a mate. On the other hand, he didn’t like the smell of all the Neanderthals about, and lumbered away from the wrecked encampment, pulling up chunks of brush and eating as he went. Meanwhile, the Woolly Rhino, unsure where she was, trailed after the Mammoth. She couldn’t see very well, but she knew that the smell of Mammoth meant trampled food she could eat. And food was always good.
The consciousnesses in the vortex remained aware of their surroundings only long enough to see their former bodies getting on with their lives. It was only a moment later before they finally lost all connections, to each other, and to that world, and were gone.