A week and a half. That’s how long it’d been since the group had found themselves on this extended Ice Age sequel. And the amulet still hadn’t even dimmed. Needless to say, tempers were wearing thin, and stomachs were wearing thinner. It’d been three days since they’d found one of the Furball towns, and Dawn had taken to riding on Spike’s back most of the time. She expended energy the fastest of all of them, being a young Smilodon, and needed more food than the others. When they did find some of the Furballs, they donated most of the catch to the youngest Summers on principal. Spike was barely eating at all, giving almost all of his food to Dawn. And he wasn’t sleeping well, either. The last night, he’d actually SEEN one of the wolves that he’d been hearing every night. A white Dire Wolf that his nose told him was female. And something else. Something that he couldn’t quite put one of his nonexistent fingers on, and it was bothering him.
“How much farther can it be!?”, Xander complained. “We’ve been walking for a week, almost nonstop. And we have yet to even SMELL these stupid Tar Pits!” He walked up to Spike, growling low, the fur on his back rose. “I think you’re either just leading us around in circles, or you have no clue where you’re going.”
The wolf snorted, his own hackles rising involuntarily. “I know more than you do, Hyena-boy. And I’m not the only one leading. Talk to the Slayer.” He turned his back on the Hyena, thinking that he’d put him in his place. He was wrong.
With a howling sound, the Giant Hyena leaped onto the Dire Wolf’s back, and attempted to bite the back of Spike’s neck. Spike howled and snarled, shaking the enraged Hyena off and whirling to face him. The two circled each other, growling and posturing, until an earsplitting trumpet nearly scared the fur off of both of them.
“That’s ENOUGH!”, Giles said, swinging his trunk around and shaking his massive curling tusks menacingly. “Both of you! Shut up and sit down!”
The Giant Hyena and Dire Wolf sat down.
Giles marched up in front of them, the rumble coming from his Mammoth body sounding very much like a growl. “We will never make it home if we don’t get along. We’re supposed to be a family. None of us will get home if we don’t stick together. Which means NO FIGHTING!”
Xander looked down and away from Giles. “Sorry.”
Spike just stared straight ahead. Family. Puh. Of the whole group, only one cared anything about him. He’d never be a member of this family. Even if he wanted to. Which he didn’t. He only stayed for Buffy and Dawn. And he was beginning to wonder why he was even bothering with Buffy at all.
Over the last week, Buffy’d begun to scare him. She was really getting into the whole Smilodon thing. He’d seen her rip a living Furball apart a couple of days earlier. It was obvious to him that she was just using their circumstances as another escape. Just like she’d used being invisible before.
Giles was still talking, but Spike was no longer listening. He got up and stalked off, growling to himself, away from the others.
Giles looked up and watched Spike go. Then he looked to Xander. “Xander, please go check on Willow and Tara. They believe that they may have found a small nest of Furballs.” Excited by the prospect of fresh food, the Hyena got up and trotted off in the direction that the Mammoth’s trunk was pointing. Giles then followed the Dire Wolf.
Spike walked about a eighth of a mile away from the others, to a small cliff that they’d discovered the day before. He sat on the edge of the cliff, and laid down, his forepaws and snout hanging off the edge of the cliff. He sighed deeply, then sensed the Mammoth behind him. “What, Rupert?”
Giles stood slightly behind and next to him. “What, yourself. What is your problem, Spike?”
“I do have a problem, Rupe. But it’s not exactly mine. And I can’t tell you, without revealing a confidence.”
Spike felt the sort of strange, and yet comforting sensation of a trunk stroking the fur on his back. “It’s about Buffy, isn’t it?”
Spike just sighed.
Giles nodded a little, and continued smoothing down the raised fur along the wolf’s back with his trunk. “I figured as much. I’ve noticed her behavior as of late as well. That business with the Furball the other day was enough to tell me that something’s wrong.”
Spike sat up and turned his head to look up and Giles over his shoulder. “It’s worse than you know, Rupert. Don’t think I don’t want to tell you. Cause I do. I want someone to talk to about this. But I can’t. There’s stuff that, if I tell you, Buffy’ll make me wish that *I* was that Furball the other day.”
Giles gave a chuckle. “Yes. I would imagine. But I think I know what this is about. Xander told me about your… um.. pushups? When Buffy was invisible. And I believe that I have seen something that he didn’t.” A hint of that growling rumble had slipped back into the Mammoth’s voice.
If he’d had a human body, Spike would have bitten his lip. He was totally aware that the Mammoth was strong enough to totally tear him limb from limb. And if Spike’d been Giles, that’s what he’d do. He looked away, not wanting to see Giles’ trunk fly at him and throw him off the cliff. It would be a quick, and explainable way to rid the world of Spike once and for all. His muscles tensed, and he waited for it to happen. He was shocked when it didn’t.
Instead of the Mammoth’s trunk slamming into his back, he felt the tip of it gently rest on his head between his ears. “I am disappointed, Spike. But not in you. You love Buffy, and you want to help her. Am I right that she is *usually* the instigator of these… Meetings?”
Spike licked his lips. “Well.. Yeah.”
The trunk began stroking his head gently. “I am going to talk to Buffy about this. She’s been using you. Using your love for her to make herself feel better. I’m sorry, Spike.”
Spike dropped his head. “I was hoping.. that I was wrong. That, at least in some way, she did love me.”
Giles nodded, and used his trunk to pick up the wolf and turn him around so that he was facing him. “It’s not your fault. God knows you’ve done more than your share. If it weren’t for you, Dawn never would have recovered last summer. I know how much you had to be hurting, but you stayed strong for her. You supported her, patrolled with all of us, and nearly got yourself killed for us several times.”
Spike looked up at the Mammoth. “I didn’t think any of you noticed. You.. you never said anything.”
Giles nodded. “And I apologize for that as well. We were all quite.. absorbed in our own plans and problems. It’s not that we didn’t care, Spike. Thank you.”
The wolf shrugged. “I was just keeping a promise, Rupe. Really.”
Giles gave him one last pat on the head. “It was more than that, Spike. And you know it.” He turned and started back toward the others, then looked back at Spike, who stayed sitting on the cliff. “You didn’t betray her, Spike. You just confirmed what I already knew.”
Spike nodded, and turned back around to watch the last few moments of sunset.
“Ooooowwwwwwwoooooo!”, the howls came again. Closer than the night before, even though he couldn’t see any of the wolves this time. Spike was still on the cliff, listening to the wolves, fighting the instinct that told him to answer their calls, when he heard her.
“SPIKE!” The mental words were a shout, and the animal voice accompanying it was a roar. A Smilodon roar. “I KNOW YOU’RE OUT HERE! I SMELL YOU!”
Spike turned his head. He knew this was coming. He should’ve asked Giles not to confront Buffy about their ‘relationship’ until after they got back home. At least there, if she beat the crap out of him, he’d heal quickly. He sighed. Might as well get it over with. “On the cliff, luv.”
There was a snarl, and the golden Smilodon, fur raised, saber fangs bared, leaped out of the grass onto the bare rock that lead up to the cliff. She was growling low in her throat, a frightening sound, even to the wolf. He stood to face her. He wouldn’t growl, he wouldn’t hurt her. She could make the first move this time. She stalked toward him, her body language not showing any of the human that was residing somewhere within the Smilodon mind. She was a Smilodon, approaching her mortal enemy, the Dire Wolf, and preparing for the kill. “You told him,” she hissed at him, her golden eyes flashing dangerously.
“No. I didn’t. He already knew, Slayer.” Spike took a couple of short steps toward her, making sure to keep his body in a semi-submissive position, trying to appease her inner Smilodon. “He confronted *me* about it. And I-”
The strike came so fast, Spike didn’t even see her draw her paw back before he felt the bite of the five razor-sharp claws rake across his face, and through one eye. “You LYING son of a BITCH!”, she roared.
Spike hadn’t been prepared for her to hit him. It knocked him clean off his four paws and onto his side. Spike shook his head, trying to clear his vision. The eye that her claws had swiped seemed totally blinded, but after a moment, it cleared a little, showing that it was simply filled with the wolf’s blood. His blood. He stood up, shaking his head and bringing Buffy into focus, even though blood continued to drip in his eyes, the whole left side of his face burning painfully. The Smilodon seemed shocked at what she’d done. She obviously hadn’t thought about her claws. “Spike…” She took a step toward him, and he took one back.
“Back off, Slayer,” he said quietly, with no malice in his voice. He shook his head, throwing drops of blood onto the rocks around him. “I hope you see now. I wanted to do this before, but I couldn’t make myself. I kept telling myself that if I just kept letting you… letting you be with me. Letting you take what you needed from me, and then leave me like you’d abandon a puppy at the SPCA.” He walked past her, without making eye contact, ignoring the pain in his face. “Well, you won’t walk away this time. Because I’m doing it first. Goodbye, Buffy.”
The Smilodon turned around and followed Spike. “Spike.. wait.. you can’t leave.. we won’t get home without you..”
Spike whirled to face her, and she took a step back when the moonlight illuminated the drying blood on his wolf face. “As if you really care, Slayer. As if you even want to go home. Just like your little case of invisibility, this is bloody convenient for you, isn’t it? Once again, you’ve been handed the perfect opportunity to escape from yourself. Well, enjoy it, Slayer, because it won’t last. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to face your life. And I’m just speeding up the process.” He turned, and began walking again.
About halfway through his speech, Buffy had sat down. Like always, his words had rung true, but once again, they weren’t what she wanted to hear. “But.. You love me…”
Spike froze. This time, he didn’t turn to face her. “I do love you, Buffy. But Rupert showed me something today. Something that I didn’t want to see, but that I know is true. You’re using me, Buffy. And it’s killing me. It may be making you feel better in the short term, but I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired, Buffy. I’m tired of feeling for people who don’t give a rat’s ass about me. I’m tired of giving my love to people who either don’t return it, or use it to stab me in the back. I can’t do it anymore, Buffy. When it’s time to go back to Sunnydale, I’ll be there. But when we get back, I’m leaving. For good. Goodbye, Buffy. I love you.” He didn’t wait for her response, just turned and ran. He ran as fast as his paws would take him, in the direction that he’d heard the howls earlier.
Buffy was frozen, sitting on the bare rocks of the cliff. He was gone… he’d left.. the one thing he’d sworn never to do, and he’d left her. Just like Angel. Just like Riley. Just like her father. But this time was different, wasn’t it? This *was* her fault. She held up one paw, the one she’d struck him with, and looked at the blood on her claws. If she’d been human, she would have cried. As it was, she just laid down on the cold rocks, making a quiet whimpering noise, realizing something too late. She cared about him. More than cared. She loved him. And now she could never tell him. The Smilodon cried herself to sleep.
Spike ran as far as he could, at top speed, until he collapsed from exhaustion. A couple of the cuts on his face hadn’t closed, and hot blood was still dripping in his eye. He lay there, flat on his furry stomach, whimpering quietly. Well, he’d done it. He’d removed the temptation. And it hurt. Hurt horribly. He sighed. Now what should he do?
His ears pricked at the sound. That was close. Very close. Way too close. He raised his head and was shocked to see the white female wolf standing about ten feet away. And yet.. he didn’t feel worried. He sat up slightly. “What do *you* want?”
The wolf cocked her head and looked at him. She took a couple of steps toward him and whined quietly.
Spike looked at her. “Do I know you?”
Whimper, and a couple more steps toward him. Now she was less than two feet away. She leaned forward and licked at his snout gently, cleaning off the blood. Spike couldn’t help it, his eyes closed and he leaned toward her. She cleaned the blood off his snout and face, even gently licking it off his eye, then she stepped back away from him and sat down.
Spike opened his eyes and regarded the wolf. “Thanks, Beauty,” he said quietly, naming the female wolf just off the top of his head. “You want me to come with you, don’t you?”
Whine, gentle nuzzle.
Spike ducked his head and shook it slightly. “Sorry, Beauty. I can’t. I’ve got to…” He cocked his head. “Well, you know what? I can come with you. It’ll be better than being alone, anyway. Besides, you look like you know where the food is.”
A happy yip. Spike was beginning to think that this wolf could understand him. Or maybe his telepathic link was allowing her to understand the thoughts behind his words. That made more sense. He stood up, facing Beauty, and wagged his tail a little. “Okay, then, Beauty. Lead the way.”
She wagged her tail and gave him a quick lick on the snout again, then turned and walked a few steps, then looked back to make sure that he was following her, which he was. He walked up next to her and they walked off side by side.
After they’d been walking for awhile, they came upon four other Dire Wolves. Three females and one young male. To Spike’s surprise, all four wolves greeted him as if he was… their leader… He looked them over. The three females were mostly brown and silver. The female that he’d christened Beauty was pure white, and the small male, no more than maybe six months old, was white with silver markings. He sniffed at each of them, and was surprised to find that while he wasn’t related to any of the females, the young male smelled… half like him. And half like… Beauty. He sat down hard when the realization hit him.
These wolves where his pack. He was the pack leader. The young male was his son. And Beauty.. Beauty was his mate. A family. Spike had a family.