That night was horribly cold, and Spike felt it. The kind of cold that chills you to the bone, and leaves you shivering long after the sun has come up. The kind of cold that being truly alone causes. The Dire Wolf did his best to curl up, under the cocked up roots of one of the few trees that dotted the plains, in the shadow of a small hill, trying to keep the chilling wind off himself. There was no kidding himself anymore. He couldn’t hide behind the wolves. He knew now that he wasn’t one of them. Would never be one of them. Never had been.
He didn’t think that there’d ever been a longer night in the history of the world. Maybe it was just because he hadn’t been getting very much sleep, or maybe it was because of the loneliness. Whatever it was, he was certainly glad when he saw the first rays of sun coming up over the mountains. He crawled out of the makeshift shelter of the tree’s roots, and stretched. Began walking, even though he didn’t really know where he was going.
During the confrontation with the wolf pack the previous day, he’d totally lost the scent of the Scoobies. So, now, he wandered aimlessly in the direction that he thought that the Tar Pits would be. He didn’t know what he’d do now. A song began to play in his head, and he sung the lyrics quietly to himself, along with the artist’s voice that he could almost hear from his memory.
“Sound the bugle now.
Play it just for me.
As the seasons change,
Remember how I used to be.
Now I can’t go on.
I can’t even start.
I’ve got nothing left,
Just an empty heart.”
He wandered up a rather steep hill, head down, tail tucked between his legs.
“I’m a soldier,
Wounded, so I must give up the fight.
There’s nothing more for me,
Lead me away.
Or leave me lying here..”
He looked back over his shoulder, half expecting to see either the pack, or the Scoobies following him. Was a little disappointed when he saw nothing. Nothing but the small herd of Protohippus that were grazing nearby. And the pack. But they were about a half a mile away, lounging beside a fresh kill. He sighed. He could be down there, with them. Instead, he was alone. All because of a stupid conscience that he wasn’t even supposed to have in the first place.
“Sound the bugle now.
Tell them I don’t care.
There’s not a road I know,
That leads to anywhere.
Without a light,
I fear that I will stumble in the dark.
Lay right down and decide not to go on.”
He reached the top of the hill, almost deciding to go in the direction of the song, when he caught a scent. Several scents, actually. Mammoth, Giant Hyena, Dinofelis, Woolly Rhino, and Smilodon. Mixed with a scent that was quite similar to heated asphalt. He cocked his head, and followed his nose to the edge of a small drop off. Sure enough, in the distance, he could make out the Tar Pits, and even better, the others. The Scoobies! He quelled his first instinct, which was to run down there and leap into the middle of them like a linebacker, because he had just caught another scent. He scanned the valley below, and then saw what had his friends lined up nervously, with their backs to the Tar Pits. About a quarter mile away, and closing fast, was the largest pride of Smilodons that he (or rather, the wolf) had ever seen. And they were lead by a huge male. He must have been almost twice Buffy’s size.
His eyes flew back and forth between the advancing pride, and his friends, who seemed to be preparing to make a stand. He wanted to help them. Had to help them. The last parts of the song began to play.
“Then from on high,
Somewhere in the distance,
There’s a voice that calls,
‘Remember who you are’.
If you lose yourself,
Your courage soon will follow,
So be strong tonight.
Remember who you are.”
Suddenly, the answer came to him. But he couldn’t do it alone. He turned, and his eyes locked on the wolves. He’d need Beauty’s help, and any other wolf that would come with him. He turned and ran toward them.
“You’re a soldier now,
Fighting in a battle,
To be free once more.
Yeah, that’s worth fighting for!”
He ran as fast as he could, and made it to the lounging wolf pack in record time. Two of the females stood and snarled at him. To their surprise, he snarled back. “Back off. I’m not here for you.” He turned to Beauty. “Beauty, luv.. Please. I need your help. My friends.. My pack..” Shook his head. “My family. They’re in trouble. Smilodons. Lots of ’em. I know we can’t fight them, but I have a plan. Please, tell me you’ll help.”
Beauty looked at him, whatever was allowing her to understand his thought-speech was obviously still working. She yipped a couple of times, and stepped forward, bumping his snout with hers. Her mate was in trouble, and he needed her help. That was all she needed to know. To Spike’s surprise, Little Will and one of the other females stepped forward as well. He wagged his tail happily. “Thanks, guys. Not much time. Come on.” He turned and ran toward the herd of Protohippus. “We have to cause a stampede, do you understand!?”
A chorus of barks and growls came from behind. Just to make sure they got the message, he mentally projected the scene from The Lion King where the hyenas cause the Wildebeest to stampede. The four wolves spread out, and snapped at the hooves of the giant horses, barking and howling up a storm. “We’ve got to make them go west!”, Spike howled to the others. Within the next few moments, the panicked herd was moving, with three wolves chasing it. Spike was out in front, steering the lead horses. “Come on, ya bleedin’ glue factories! Let’s get a move on!” He howled again, and was answered by the others at the back of the herd.
Meanwhile, on the banks of the Tar Pits, the Scoobies were preparing to do whatever they could to hold off the Smilodons. When they’d awakened that morning, it had been to the terrifying scent of Smilodon. Extremely close. It hadn’t taken long for them to figure out what had happened. The pride that Buffy and Dawn’s bodies were a part of had found them. And they wanted their cub back.
Buffy was pacing in front of them, her sadness at Spike’s leaving momentarily put aside in favor of Family Protection Mode. “We can’t let them get Dawn, no matter what. I hope we don’t have to hurt them, but if it comes down to it, and it’s them or us, it’s the same as it was at the tower. I’m not letting anyone get Dawn. Over my dead body.”
Xander stepped forward. “We’re with you, Buff. No one gets Dawn.”
Giles waved his trunk around. “Yes. We are not losing a member of this family.”
From between Giles’ huge forelegs, Dawn whimpered, “We already have. I miss Spike.”
Willow nodded. “Yeah. We could really use his wolf about now.”
Buffy froze for a moment, then shook herself visibly. “He’s not here. We have to do this together, Willow. All of us. They’ve got the numbers advantage, but we’ve got the brains. Human intelligence and animal strength. We’ll win this. We’ll-”
“Here they come!”, Giles trumpeted, stamping his forefeet. The group of Smilodons were less than five hundred yards away now, and closing fast. The leader roared and charged, with the others coming behind him. As the Scoobies prepared their defense, they all felt the ground begin to shake.
“An earthquake?”, Tara asked, looking around.
Giles, who had a higher perspective than any of them, scanned the horizon, and trumpeted with excitement. “There’s a stampede! The Protohippus! They’re headed straight for the Smilodons!”
Buffy watched as the herd of Protohippus basically cut the Smilodon pride in half, plowing right through and over them. “I wonder what started them-”
“OOOOOWWWWOOOOOO!!!!” “I’M COMING, EVERYONE!!”
That voice! They knew that voice! The entire group, in unison, shouted one word. “SPIKE!”
The silver and white Dire Wolf shot out of the herd of Protos, and ran after the Smilodons that were still on the attack. Right that moment, the first wave of Smilodons reached the Scoobies, who met them with claws, teeth, and tusks flailing. Spike flew into the fight, slamming one of the Smilodons right out of the air as it leaped toward Buffy. He hit the ground, howling and snarling.
“AhhhH!”, Dawn suddenly yelled. She’d been excited by seeing Spike, and had moved out from the protective cage of Giles legs, and now the huge leader of the Smilodons had her in his mouth! “HELP! BUFFY! SPIKE!”
“Dawn!”, the Smilodon and Dire Wolf yelled in unison. But just then, an attacking Smilodon charged Buffy, preventing her from acting to save her sister. Spike leaped into action, using the unconscious body of one of the Smilodons as a springboard, he leaped onto the huge leader’s back and sank his fangs into the mane on the back of his neck. The Smilodon roared in pain and rage, and dropped Dawn. Spike cut off his attack to grab Dawn by the scruff of her neck in his mouth, and turned to run toward Giles. He’d almost made it, when he was flying tackled from behind.
Dawn flew out of his jaws, and skidded to a stop in front of Giles, who scooped her up in his trunk and set her on his back. “Hang on, Dawn!”
Buffy leaped to help Spike, but the giant Smilodon shook both of them off. Spike shook his head, and yelled to the others, “Get on the other side of the Pits! Put the tar between you and the pride!”
Xander, Willow, and Tara had lead some of the pride away, and they’d also won their fight with them. They were coming back to help, but when they heard Spike’s cry, and the urgency of it, they stayed on the far side of the pit. Giles moved as well, knocking attacking Smilodons with his tusks and trunk, and kicking with his massive legs. One benefit of being a Mammoth, anything you kick stays down.
Anya was standing with her back to the Pits, snorting and swinging her horns at anything that dared to come close. There was an old dead tree, barely hanging on to the soil at the edge of the Tar Pits next to her. Spike didn’t know why he noticed that tree, but would soon be happy that he did. Meanwhile, he had to get that giant Smilodon off of Buffy.
“Ooooowwwwwwooooo!” He charged with a howl, and slammed the giant with his full weight, knocking him rolling. Buffy stood shakily, and he could see blood running in her pelt, but it didn’t look serious. “Get on the other side! With Rupert, Slayer! GO!”
For once, she didn’t question him, just ran. Spike snarled at the giant cat. “Come on, Kitty. Let’s play tag.” He leaped toward it, passing it on one side, and getting in a bite to it’s flank as he passed. “You’re it!” That had just the effect he wanted it to. The cat roared and charged him. He ran. Straight at the Tar Pits. “Anya! Tree! There’s a tree next to you! Make it lean!”
The Rhino turned and shoved the tree, hard, until it was tilted at a forty-five degree angle. “STOP!”, Spike yelled. “Get on the other side!” Anya lowered her nose horn and ran around the edge of the pit, knocking one of the final Smilodons aside with her truck-sized body.
Spike looked behind himself. Good. The cat was still coming. That was what he needed. It was so blinded by rage that it didn’t see what he saw. Didn’t know that a wolf could jump farther because he had longer legs. He ran up the slanted tree, feeling the wood splintering and cracking beneath his weight, and leaped off the top of the trunk, sailing over the deadly tar below. He heard the cat following him, but his weight had pushed the tree further down. The Smilodon didn’t have the same height to his jump that Spike had. He heard a splash behind him, and a roaring sound that almost sounded pitiful. But he didn’t look. Uh-oh.
Another, more pressing problem had just presented itself. He could see now that his jump was going to fall short. He wasn’t going to make it. He remembered when Buffy had jumped from the tower, knowing full well that the portal would kill her. All for Dawn. Now it was his turn. He would hit the tar, sink, drown, and die in a body that didn’t even belong to him. Everything was going in slow motion. The tar was coming up to slap him in the face. Closer. Closer. Closer. Stop. Wait a minute. Stop?
Something had grabbed him. A Mammoth’s trunk. Giles! Giles backed slowly away from the pit, pulling the one leg that he’d had to put into the tar out with some difficulty. The Mammoth backed away from the Tar Pits, and carefully placed the Dire Wolf on his feet. Spike looked around. “Is everyone alright?” He wasn’t really shocked when a mini Smilodon tackled him.
“You came back! I knew you’d come back,” Dawn said happily, nuzzling the wolf. “I missed you. We all missed you.”
He looked around, at the group that had assembled around him. His eyes locked on each one, and they all nodded in turn. Yes. They had missed him. He got to his feet, and shook his head a little. Ooh. He was dizzy. “Where’s Buffy?”
Giles moved aside, and Spike could now see that Buffy’d been standing behind him the whole time. She ducked her head and moved forward slowly, a posture of submission. “Spike.. I.. I’m sorry.”
He sat. Wasn’t at all surprised when the group moved away to give them a private moment. “Buffy, I want to believe you. But you’ve said it before. Why should I think that now is any different?”
She sat in front of him, and looked at the Tar Pits. The remainder of the Smilodon pride was on the far side, moving off slowly, disorganized after losing their leader. “Cause I know now. What I did. I mean, I knew what I was doing before, just… Not *knowing*, you know?” She scuffed a forepaw in the short grass. “Chalk one up to Babbling Buffy,” she muttered.
Spike chuckled quietly. “No. I understand perfectly. It took me awhile to realize what was actually going on, too. In fact, it took you actually being invisible for me to realize that you’d always been invisible to me.” He held up a paw to stop her from responding. “Let me finish, luv. I need to say this. That day, when we were together, I could smell you. I could feel you. I could hear you, but I couldn’t see you. You’ve always been invisible to me, because I love you, and you just saw me as a… A drug. Something to take away the pain of living again. I couldn’t live like that anymore. That’s why I threw you out that day, luv.”
She knew. Deep down, she’d always known. But somehow, hearing him say it made it more real. “I hurt you,” she said quietly. It wasn’t a question. “I’m sorry. But.. Things have changed. And I don’t just mean our bodies and current locations. I.. I’ve had feelings for you for some time, Spike. I just.. I didn’t know what they were. That night, on the cliff, when you left… I finally figured it out.” She looked up at the sky, which was becoming cloudy despite the brightness of the day.
Spike stood to his feet, and faced her. “Buffy, I don’t want you to say it. Don’t say it, and then the moment we’re back in Sunnydale again, if you still feel the same way, then say it. I can’t hear it now. Not without wondering if it’s just spoken out of convenience.”
She stood indignantly. “It’s not! Spike, I lo-”
“Buffy.” His quiet voice was pained. “Don’t say it if you’re going to take it back later. Don’t say if when we get home, I’m just going to be..” Swallowed. “Beneath you again.”
She moved next to him, placed a paw on his shoulder. “I was wrong, Spike. Angry, when I said that. I used something you told me in confidence against you, and I’m sorry. I know I’ve hurt you. I know I’ve been wrong, but I want to make this work now. Really work. You aren’t a.. Drug, to me. Not anymore. And I love you.”
She’d said it. Spike was very grateful that wolves don’t cry. He looked to her. “Slayer.. Buffy.. You’re sure? You really mean this?”
She smiled mentally. He was giving her a way out. Wonderful, sweet Spike. Her Spike. “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. I love you, Spike.” If she’d had her normal body, now would’ve been the time to chew her lower lip. As it was, she just made a quiet whimper. “You.. You still love me, right? I mean.. I saw.. Them.” She pointed with a paw across the Tar Pits, where Beauty, Little Will, and the female Dire Wolf were sitting, watching them. “They’re your family, aren’t they?”
Spike gave a bit of a nod. “Yes. And no. They’re the wolf’s family. Not mine. Took me awhile to realize that, though.” He looked over his shoulder, at the rest of the Scoobies who were a few yards away. “That’s my family, over there. Same as you, luv.” Locked eyes with her. “I love you, Buffy. I’ll always love you. Smilodon, or Slayer. It doesn’t matter to me.”
She couldn’t hold back. She moved toward him, and nuzzled her head under his chin, aware of the wolf eyes that were watching them. “I love you too, Spike.”
Beauty watched from a distance. Her mate seemed happy, now. Happy with that Smilodon. His pack. That group was his pack. But also, not. She got up, and nudged Little Will to his feet, barking a quick command to the other female. Something told her that, when this strange pack’s journey was over, she’d have her mate back again. Until then, all she could do was wait. Something that all predators are inherently good at. She could wait. She had time.
Behind Buffy and Spike, Dawn turned and slunk back to the others. Her spy mission was complete, and she had happy news. If Buffy loved Spike, and Spike loved Buffy, that meant that he wouldn’t leave when they got home. Good. Her big brother was here to stay.
That night, the group slept close to the Tar Pits (the smell wasn’t *that* bad, when you got used to it). It was good to have everyone together again. Dawn was once again on Spike’s back, and Spike was squashed between Buffy and Giles. He was happy, finally. Now, if only they could get back to their own time, and out of the animal bodies, everything would be perfect. Starting tomorrow, they’d head for Sunnydale, and, hopefully, the way home.