The Worst Journey in the World Part Two

Jun 15, 2009 09:40

For Pairing, Rating etc, see Part One.

The Worst Journey in the World Part Two

"A world with nothing but shrimp?"

Buffy realised her mouth was hanging open and shut it with a snap.

Spike was slumped in the corner of the diner booth, one arm resting on the seat back.

"Sounds like a fun place."

"Not really." Wesley stirred cream into his coffee. "In actual fact, the whole world is one perpetually frozen sea. The shrimp live under an ice-sheet several miles thick."

"Frozen?" Buffy shivered, glancing outside to where the edges of the sidewalks were piled high with mounds of dirty snow. "Worse than this?"

"Much worse," Wesley assured her. "Nothing can live there - apart from the shrimp. Hence the Senior Partners' total lack of interest in the place. There's nothing, and no one, to exploit."

Spike turned his unlit cigarette around and around in his hand. "So it's an ice-hell? Haven't visited one of those in a while. Not unique, though."

"True." Wesley sipped his coffee. He made a face as he swallowed, like he wanted to spit it out but was too polite. "This one, however, has one vital unique attribute."

"Lemme guess." Spike stuck the unlit cigarette in his mouth. "S'a good place to hide your apocalypse busting -thing- whatever - from prying eyes."

"Exactly." Wesley set his mug down on the table, almost untasted. Around them, the buzz of conversation filled the muggy air of the diner. The windows were smeared with condensation, obscuring the view of downtown Anchorage.

"It's a curious place," Wesley went on, a faraway look on his face. "Where the crystal has to be taken, I mean. When I first saw it, I couldn't believe my eyes. But it's there, and it'll do the job."

"And you know this how?" Buffy sipped at her own coffee. Black, it tasted okay.

"Like I told you," Wesley said, "through years of patient research. Ever since I was reinstated at Wolfram & Hart, first in my old position, and latterly as C.E.O., I've been looking for a way to finish what Angel started. With your help, hopefully this time I'll succeed."

Buffy could almost feel Spike's eyes boring into her at the mention of Angel's name. She studiously didn't look at him.

"You haven't said how come they reinstated you."

Wesley had been in the act of taking another sip of his coffee. Maybe he hadn't quite believed what his taste buds had told him the first time?

"I beg your pardon?"

"Why did they reinstate you? You turned on them - betrayed them. Dead or alive, why would they put you back in a position of trust?"

Wesley put his mug down again very, very carefully and clasped his hands together.

"Good question."

Buffy folded her arms, pleased. "I thought so."

She did look at Spike this time, to see his wintry blue gaze go from her to Wesley and back again. The unlit cigarette was lying on the table.

Wesley cleared his throat. "From what I understand - from what I've been told - the Senior Partners had their eyes on me even before Angel's attempted coup. Since loyalty has always been rewarded at Wolfram & Hart, my decision to help Angel, rather than telling against me, was a point in my favour."

Spike laughed his dirty snigger of a laugh. "You mean you lived down to their expectations?"

"You could say that."

Spike shook his head. "Maybe I should've signed that sodding contract after all? Would probably have made C.E.O. myself by now."

Wesley's knuckles went white.

"Believe me, Spike, if you've ever done a single intelligent thing in your life - hard to credit, I know - not signing a Wolfram & Hart contract was definitely it."

"Watch it, Percy!" Spike snarled, the people in the next booth turning around to stare at the sound of his raised voice. But Buffy interjected.

"That's enough, both of you."

Spike kept his hostile gaze on Wesley. "Sorry, love. Like I said back in L.A., never could stand the stuck-up smug bastard, and he's even worse now he's dead."

"At least I'm not a hypocrite." Wesley's tone dripped acid.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Spike was half on his feet, but once again Buffy broke in.

"Spike, I said that's enough. Any more of this, and I'll leave you behind."

That got his attention. He opened his mouth to protest, then seemed to think better of it. Dropping his gaze, he sat down again and folded his arms.

"And you." Buffy turned on Wesley. "Stop trying to provoke him. Like you said, he was smart not to sign anything, and it's not his fault you did."

Wesley frowned, and Buffy repressed a smirk. She must have hit a nerve.

"This is getting us nowhere," she said. "Or at least, only as far as Alaska. How do we get to this shrimp world, and once we're there, where do we take the crystal?"

"Don't see why we had to come to sodding Alaska in the first place," Spike muttered. "And in winter. S'bloody freezing."

Wesley half-smiled. "Think of it as a dry run. It'll be a lot colder where we're going."

He turned to Buffy. "In answer to your questions, we get to the ice world through a portal. Once we're there, we follow the trail of supply depots I laid to our destination at the very heart of it."

"Well, good-" Buffy began, but Wesley's gaze was back on Spike.

"As for why we've come to Alaska, I've found it a convenient place to practise the necessary skills required for the trip, plus it seemed a more likely vacation spot for me than, say, Siberia, in case anyone back in L.A. had become curious during the last five years about my plans. As it is, they think I've taken up a nice, healthy outdoor hobby, which I indulge in once or twice a year."

"S'pose," Spike conceded. "When you say 'necessary skills', you mean -"

"Cross country skiing," Wesley said, in a patient tone. "Polar travel survival techniques. I'm reasonably proficient now, but you two will need to learn fast." He smiled a conciliatory smile. "I know it's a tall order, but I thought with your superior strength and co-ordination, you would find it easier than we mere mortals. Then there's the sled and sled dogs to be hired."

"Sled dogs?" Buffy exclaimed, as the same time as Spike's mouth dropped open.

"What the fuck? Who the bloody hell do you think you are? Captain Scott?"

Wesley smiled his insufferable, superior smile.

"I would hope not."

Spike gave Wesley a dark look. "Me too."

"Who's Captain Scott?" Buffy asked.

She stared from one of them to the other, while they gaped at her in astonishment. The hostility in their expressions had evaporated instantaneously. Instead, they had this weird, almost conspiratorial look, like they were sharing some special kind of British secret knowledge to which she, and other dumb Yanks, weren't privy.

"Tell me!" she insisted.

Spike’s lips thinned. "Captain Scott was this complete and total wanker who led the British expedition that reached the South Pole in 1912."

"Oh." She blinked. "Good on him."

"Not so good, in fact," Wesley cut in. "Scott's party had aimed to reach the Pole first, but they were beaten by a Norwegian expedition led by Amundsen, and…"

"…and they all died on the way back," Spike finished for him. "'Cos Scott was, as I said, a complete and total wanker."

"I don't agree," Wesley said, sharply. "If you're thinking of Huntford's biography, it's my opinion that he maligned Scott to the point of libel."

Spike glowered. "Not talkin' about any sodding book. Bloke was a wanker. Take my word for it."

"Oh." Wesley sat back in his seat, looking half-stunned, while Spike had a smug expression on his face - a self-justified cat that had got the cream.

Buffy sighed. The way these two were acting around each other, this road trip, or sled trip - whatever - was shaping up to be a whole lot less than fun.


The sky had gone grey. Down near the horizon it was charcoal-coloured. Not a good sign.

"That storm's coming fast." Spike indicated the overcast with a nod of his head as he struggled with the tent. "And fuck this thing! Thought it was supposed to be easy-assembly."

"Let me." Wesley did something - Buffy wasn't sure quite what - and the next moment, the tent was fully raised, its bright orange dome a cheerful splash of colour in the gloom.

Spike scowled at Wesley's back as Wesley began unloading the sled and carrying things inside the tent.

"Was just gonna do that myself."

"Of course you were," Wesley said, over his shoulder, and Spike's upper lip lifted from his teeth in a half-snarl - which looked way weird when he was in human face.

Buffy tensed, expecting another fight, but after a moment, Spike turned away.

"I'll sort out the dogs," he said. "Get 'em fed before the storm closes in."

"Good idea." Buffy busied herself with helping Wesley, while the usual cacophony of barks and yelps greeted Spike's arrival amongst the dog-pack.

Something soft and cold brushed Buffy's cheek, and she looked up to see the air full of snowflakes - more and more of them spiralling down in the rising wind.

It still amazed her that the dogs could survive outside through a storm. Once or twice, they'd had to dig them out from under foot-deep drifts, only to find them curled up underneath, bodies huddled together in a warm, smelly heap, fast asleep.

"Looks like a bad one," Wesley muttered. Yet again, he was squinting back the way they'd come. Not that you could see a damn thing in the gathering murk.

"Yeah well, if it stops us in our tracks, it's gonna stop whatever's after us too."

Wesley blinked. "Ah."

"What?" She pushed past him into the tent with the last box of supplies. "Shocked to discover we're not as stupid as you thought?"

Wesley's face remained a careful blank. "Not at all, I assure you."

"Like hell." She glowered at him, but let the subject drop. Right now, she was hungry and they needed to get the stove going, which was never easy when it was extra-windy.

By the time Spike pushed his way into the tent, zipping the flap behind him, she'd succeeded in nudging the damn thing into stuttering life, but the gas canister was obviously getting low.

"How many canisters left?" Spike asked, as she set a pan full of snow on the stove to melt.

"Some. Good thing we made the depot." She cleared her throat, unwilling to discuss their situation in front of Wesley. It was more than possible that Spike had been right about him all along.

"Yeah." Spike tore off his gloves and threw them down on his pack. He pushed back his parka hood, revealing unkempt hair all gone to curls and a full, though scanty, beard much darker in colour.

"How much further is it to this - wherever we're heading, and why exactly are you so cagey about it anyway?" Spike was talking to Wesley, who was huddled in the corner he'd staked out as his own, book in hand as usual.

Wesley looked up, still in poker-face. "Not cagey at all. Like I said, it's a place at the centre of this dimension - its cold, dead heart, if you will. As for a timescale, I'd say no more than a week - if this storm doesn't hold us up."

"That's a very big if." The snow in the pan was melting fast. Even so, it would be a while before she could put their supper on to cook, and she had to eat before Spike could.

"True." Wesley spoke in his habitual calm voice that had the unfortunate effect of making him sound extra-British and superior.

Buffy bristled. She couldn't help it. After weeks of it, that voice was getting to her the way it was getting to Spike.

"And will the storm hold up whatever's on our tail? You never did say."

Wesley put his book down carefully - the same one, she saw, about the dumb British guys who died at the South Pole. "I wasn't aware it was a question."

"Well, it is. And you've been acting spooked ever since we came up the ice-fall." She was on her feet. "What the hell is your problem?"

"Easy, Slayer." Spike's voice was a low murmur, but he was standing right behind her, getting her back, as always.

That's rich, coming from you, she wanted to say, but instead she kept her eyes fixed on Wesley.

Wesley's face was deathly pale, a pallor accentuated by all the unkempt black beard, and with that weird greyish tinge to his skin more pronounced than ever.

"It's - unfortunate," Wesley said, at last, "but it seems my -er, theft has been noticed rather sooner than I’d hoped."

"Theft?" She glared at him. "What the hell did you steal, and who from?"

He cleared his throat. "In actual fact - the crystal. And I stole it from Wolfram & Hart."

"What?" Spike lunged forward but Buffy stuck out an arm and held him back.

"Let him talk - finally."

Wesley's eyes darted from one of them to the other, but they had him cornered now - literally. Outside, the wind had risen to a scream.

Wesley raised his voice above the sound.

"I'm sorry. I thought if I told you, you might think the mission not worth the risk."

"Not think calling time on the apocalypse for good is worth the risk?" Spike was snarling, in game-face. "This is the Slayer you're talking to - the greatest champion of good left on earth - not a fucking mercenary."

Buffy's face grew warm at Spike's words. "Hush, Spike. Let him finish."

Wesley cleared his throat again. "I'm very aware of Ms Summers' -er, status, Spike, I assure you. Why else do you think I turned to her for help? However, as head of your organisation, I knew she would weigh the pros and cons of this mission, and it occurred to me that if she knew every single detail she might well conclude it was more practical to try and find a different solution to the problem."

"And what's wrong with that?" Spike didn't sound much mollified.

Wesley's lips were a firm white line. "I don't think there is one."

The water on the stove was bubbling merrily now. Buffy's empty belly grumbled - boil in the bag meatballs, yay! - but she ignored it.

"There's always a different solution."

Wesley shook his head. "Not this time."

"Arsehole!" Spike muttered. He was still straining against her arm, like a dog waiting for the signal to go for the throat.

She tightened her grip on him. "Okay, say just for the sake of argument that you're right. You stole this crystal from your evil employers, to whom you're bound body and soul for eternity, and you thought they wouldn't notice?"

"Oh, I knew they'd notice," Wesley admitted. "I just hoped it wouldn't be so soon. The crystal was kept in the Wolfram & Hart vaults. I - liberated it, and replaced it with a magical replica. Easily good enough to fool all but the closest scrutiny."

"Well, it looks like it's been scrutinised," Spike snarled. "What have they sent after us, you tosser?"

Wesley looked down. "I don't know - just that it'll be fast, strong and unrelenting. That's why I needed you along - for protection."

"Great." Buffy threw up her hands. "Just - great."

"Shall I kill him?" Spike's tone was so matter-of-fact that she gaped at him in astonishment.

"What? No!"

"Not like it'll do him any real harm," Spike protested. "Bastard's bound by his contract. He'll be back ten minutes later."

She rolled her eyes. "What would be the point, then?"

His eyes met hers, sparking like topaz. "Oh, no point. It'd just feel so fucking good."

"I'm sorry," Wesley said, not sounding sorry at all. "I knew you wouldn't trust me, and it seemed politic to gloss over certain facts - for the sake of the mission."

Buffy dropped a foil-wrapped carton into the boiling water. "Actually, Wes, it's not quite as bad as Spike suspected."

Wesley blinked again. "It's not?"

"No. He thought you'd brought me here on Wolfram & Hart’s orders - to assassinate me."

"Oh." Wesley looked non-plussed. Then he picked up his book. "Well - I'm glad we've cleared the air, then."

Later, belly full as it could get on these kind of rations, she crawled into her sleeping bag next to Spike's. He was lying on his side, curled up with his back to her, but he wasn't asleep, she knew. It would be hard for anyone to sleep with the wind screaming like this and the tent booming and flapping, like it was about to take off.

She moulded her body to his, wrinkling her nose slightly at the funky way he smelt - a combination of unwashed vampire and sled dog, but then she probably smelt pretty funky herself. He wriggled a bit, and she squirmed closer, knees tucked into the curve of his ass, with the layers of down sleeping bag in between.

"Here." She stuck her arm out of the sleeping bag and put her wrist to his mouth.

He shook his head. "I'm okay."

"Don't be stupid. You haven't fed since yesterday."

He turned his head to look at her. He was in human face, but his eyes were still bright as a cat's.

"Not hungry. Can grab a bite off the dogs tomorrow."

She sighed. It wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation.

"The dogs are off limits, mister, and you know it. Feed - and that's an order."

Their gazes locked, but he was the first to look down. "Doesn't sit right," he muttered.

"Well, it sits just fine with me." She offered her wrist again, and this time, he pressed a quick kiss to where the vein throbbed under the skin.

"I love you," he said.

"Love you too. Now don't keep me waiting."

His eyes flared yellow and she felt the delicate prick of fangs.


The first thing Buffy noticed was the noise - the constant raucous barking that never stopped. The next thing she noticed was the smell.

She clapped her hand to her nose.

“It stinks here.”

Wesley was breathing carefully through his mouth. “Unfortunately, yes. I've seen enough of these places over the last five years, and they're all the same, though this is a great deal worse than some.”

"You haven't used this outfit before then?" Spike glared at him suspiciously. "Place is a fucking dump. Why not go back to where you already know the dogs'll be up to snuff?"

Wesley smiled his superior smile. "This may be a small, backwoods operation, but it comes highly recommended by the online dog-sledding community. As to why I choose not to return to somewhere I've patronised before, I would have thought that was obvious to the meanest capacity."

Spike's eyes narrowed. "Patronised is the right sodding word."

"Let's go see the dogs, okay?" Buffy cut in quickly. "Sounds like they loathe each other even more than you two."

Spike blinked. "Loathe? Nah - bastard's not worth the effort."

"My sentiments exactly." Wesley shrugged. "Lead on, Ms Summers."

"That's Buffy."

They crunched their way across the snowy yard in the direction of the racket. It was weird, Buffy thought, to see Spike dressed the way he was, in hiking boots and parka - and the fact that he’d managed to find a black parka amid all those primary colours in the store still made her want to laugh.

The sled dogs were tethered out in the open, with no kennels or shelter of any kind. As they approached, the barking grew even more frantic. Every dog was on its feet, straining against its leash, snapping and snarling like mad things.

They were beautiful looking creatures - more like wolves than dogs, with thick coats that ranged in colour from smoky grey to cream. But they looked fierce and their eyes were wild. Buffy liked dogs, but she had no desire whatsoever to pet one of these.

“Friendly bunch, aren’t they?” Spike had his hands thrust in his parka pockets - standing, in fact, the way he stood when he wore his duster, but the effect wasn’t quite the same, and again Buffy had to stifle a snort of laughter.

While he was speaking, the noise had died down a little. Buffy saw one of the dogs - smaller than the others but with a sly look about it, which might be down to the extra-slant-y bright blue eyes - cock its head, as if listening.

The minute Spike had finished talking, the noise was back redoubled, but there was a different note to it this time - more snarl-y than bark-y - and now all the dogs’ venom was directed Spike’s way. Buffy had the feeling that if anyone had untied them, they would have gone for him in a pack and torn him to pieces.

“I suppose they sense what you are, Spike,” Wesley remarked. “As I understand it, animals can.”

As if Wesley's voice had been a signal, several of the dogs re-directed their fury towards him, lips pulled back from their teeth, straining against their leashes until they almost choked. Wesley took a step back, frowning.

“Yeah, probably.” Spike smirked, then winced at a particularly loud burst of barking. His eyes were on the dog pack the whole time, looking from one animal to another, as if trying to decide which would be tastiest.

Suddenly, vampire-fast, he’d darted forward and seized the small, sly-looking dog by the scruff of the neck, dragging it out from amongst its fellows and across the snowy ground as far as its tether would stretch.

The dog snapped and snarled, twisting its lithe body frantically, but it couldn’t break Spike’s grip. Meanwhile, the other dogs were still barking, but with less enthusiasm, as if afraid it might be their turn next.

Spike shook the dog hard, still holding it by the scruff, while his other hand clamped around its open mouth and forced it closed, pinching its nostrils shut with two gloved fingers.

“Spike!” Buffy reached for him. “What the hell are you doing? You’ll suffocate him.”

But Spike had crouched down, eyes only for the dog. Their gazes were locked, Buffy saw, while behind her, Wesley muttered, “Interesting.”

Spike vamped out. His lips drew back to reveal his fangs and he snarled at the struggling animal, just as savage as any of the dog pack.

The dog’s eyes widened. It ceased struggling and instead began to whimper and cower.

“Yeah,” Spike lisped through his fangs. “Mine’r bigger, and don’t you bloody forget it. Wanker!” And he shook the dog again, before letting it go and nudging it away with his foot.

As it retreated to its fellows, tail between its legs, Buffy saw it look back at Spike in a way that struck her as almost calculating, like it was weighing up its options.

“You’ll have to watch that one,” Wesley said.

Spike had risen to his feet. He shook away his vampire features.

“Just gotta show the little bastard who's boss, that’s all.”

At that moment, a door slammed behind them, and they turned to see a tall man, built like a linebacker, in a lumberjack shirt and fur hat, standing in the cabin door, underneath the handwritten sign, nailed slightly askew, that read Sam’s Adventure Trails. He had a huge, bushy beard. Buffy didn’t think she’d seen a single man without one since they’d driven out of Anchorage.

“I see you folks know about sled dogs,” the man said. “You the Summers party?”

“That’s us.” Wesley shook the proffered hand and Buffy saw him wince as the man squeezed it. She held out her own hand.

“Buffy Summers.”

“Sam Wilson - call me Sam. Pleased to meet you Mrs Summers.” His eyes widened in surprise at the strength of her handshake.

Spike didn’t offer to shake hands. Instead, he teased a pack of cigarettes out of his parka pocket, opened it and lit one. He kept glancing at the dogs, Buffy saw, especially the one with the blue eyes.

"You have to watch him," Sam said, echoing Wesley. "He's a crafty one - good lead dog, though, even though he's kind of scrawny."

Spike exhaled smoke through his nostrils into the frosty air. "Clocked him for the leader right away. Looks like a troublemaker to me."

"No way!" Sam shook his head. "He just needs a firm hand, that's all. He'll be fine, you'll see, ‘long as you folks know what you’re about."

“We do,” Wesley assured him blandly, and Buffy supposed that for Wesley this was true. Not that he’d made any attempt to go near the dogs himself after their hostile reception.

Sam grinned. “Well, sure you do, or you wouldn't be here. But I’ll need to see that for myself before I let you take ‘em out alone. There’s a practise trail behind the cabin. You can put ‘em through their paces - get back into the swing of it.”

“Of course.” Wesley continued to smile, as Sam led them in the direction of the outhouse.

"Sled is through here,” Sam said. “I don’t get many calls for the old-fashioned wooden ones, but you can’t beat 'em for sturdiness.”

As they followed him into the barn, Buffy turned and looked back at the dogs again. The small one was watching them intently, head down on its paws, narrow face tilted, all blue eyes and doggie cheekbones.


"What?" Spike took a final drag on his cigarette and ground it out beneath his heel.

"It's that dog." She grinned at him. "It sort of reminds me of you."

His mouth dropped open. “Sod that.”


The wind sounded like tortured souls in agony. The tent boomed, straining against its guy ropes. If the storm got any worse, it would fly away altogether

Buffy was tempted to put her hands over her ears to block out the noise, but she resisted the urge. Besides, if it was bad for her, what must it be like for Spike, with his vampire-sensitive hearing?

“Are you sure the dogs are okay in this? It seems even worse than last time.” She raised her voice above the din, addressing Spike, who slumped next to her on top of their sleeping bags, unfastening his boots.

“Think so.” Spike licked dry, chapped lips. “S’long as their picket lines don’t come loose. If they do, the wankers’ll be off, no stopping ‘em.”

“That’s - not really what I meant.” Buffy winced, as the wind seemed to pick up yet another notch.

“What then?” Spike had one boot off. He began to unfasten the other.

“I meant, won’t they freeze to death out there?”

Spike paused. He looked up at her, one eyebrow raised. “Don’t think so, love. In case you hadn’t noticed by now, they come ready equipped with nice, weatherproof fur coats.”

She scowled at his tone.

“Enough with the sarcasm, buster. You’d better be right. It’s not like we can go back and get more dogs.”

“Yes,” Wesley agreed, mildly. “And, alas, if we fail to return the dogs and sled to Mr Wilson, I’ll lose my deposit, which was no small sum.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Well, boo-fucking-hoo. Wouldn't be a first for you, would it, Percy?” He attacked the stubborn bootlace again. “I know what I'm doing. They’re fed. They’ll be fine. Stop worrying.” He jabbed a finger at Wesley. "And it's not like you don't already know that. Done this journey yourself enough times, haven't you?"

Buffy turned to Wesley. “Speaking of which, how far is it again?”

Wesley was holding the wooden box containing the crystal. At her words, he opened it and peered inside before shutting it with a snap. All she saw was a brief silvery flash.

“As I said, distance-wise, it’s not far now. But the terrain between here and our goal is…difficult, as I discovered when I was laying the food depots. And the weather - well, you can see for yourself it's being rather uncooperative.”

“Uncooperative!” Spike snorted. “Deadly, more like. Very British and understated way of putting it, Percy, not to mention fucking selfish of you keeping quiet about certain facts before we came here, considering it’s not just your life on the line.”

Wesley’s expression seemed to freeze. “I’d forgotten just how much you value your own skin, Spike, even though your continued existence is testament to that fact. I’ll know better next time.”

Buffy grabbed Spike’s arm as he made to get to his feet. She couldn’t see his face but Wesley could, and it was telling that Wesley had flinched.

“Sod you!” Spike said, bitterly. “You think you’re so clever, but you know fuck all about me- and even less about her.” One finger stabbed in Buffy’s direction. “Don’t you even fucking dare try to second-guess her motives.”

Wesley’s exposed throat jerked as he swallowed. He licked his lips. “Forgive me, Ms Summers. I was rude.”

"My name's Buffy. And for the hundredth time, could you guys cool it with the macho crap?"

"He started it," Spike muttered, half under his breath. "Fucking ponce! And he's a fine one to talk."

"Enough!" Buffy snapped, but it was too late.

"What are you implying?" Wesley's voice was tight, like he was trying not to grit his teeth.

Spike glanced her way, glaring defiance. Then he sighed. "Nothing."

Wesley's face twisted, and for a moment he looked almost ugly. "You think I made some kind of underhand deal, don't you, to get myself reinstated - perhaps even before our attempt on the Black Thorn Circle? I can assure you that's not the case."

Spike had gone very still. "Why're you here, then? You and not -"

"Spike!" Buffy put her hand on his arm, while her belly clenched itself into knots.

He rounded on her. "It's not like you haven't thought it yourself."

"It's not," she agreed. She turned back to Wesley, who was watching them, blue gaze going from one to the other in a way that struck her as kind of - measuring. "Well?"

Wesley's gaze dropped. "I could just as soon say the same to Spike, and he didn't even have to die first."

Abruptly, Spike shook off her hand and stood up. "You know what? Not sure I can stomach sharing a tent with this arsehole just now. I'm off to see how the dogs're doing. Even those evil little bastards are better company than he is."

He jammed his feet back into his boots and, laces flapping, exited the tent, leaving a blast of icy air, full of snow, in his wake. "Don't turn your back on him, Slayer," he snarled. "Man's a fucking snake in the grass."

Buffy unclenched fists she couldn't remember clenching.

"Whatever you think about him, you're wrong."

Wesley shrugged. "So is he." He rummaged in his pack and brought out his book. Holding it very close to his face, he began to read. She realised she hadn't seen him in glasses since Anchorage.

She watched him for a while, but his face gave nothing away. He hadn't been so good at the inscrutable thing back in Sunnydale, but now he had it down pat. Suspicion gnawed at her. She felt behind her, to where the comforting shape of the Scythe lay in the folds of her sleeping bag.

"This crystal…"

He looked surprised to be addressed again. "What about it?"

"We get it where it needs to go, it really will do what you say? Stop Wolfram & Hart from ever bringing about this Apocalypse of theirs?"

Wesley considered the matter. "Perhaps not forever, but it will certainly hurt them badly- far worse than what Angel did, and for a great deal longer."

She took her hairbrush out of her bag and began to brush, wincing when it caught in the windblown tangles.

"Then why now? Why didn't you do it before - before Angel…" She couldn't finish the sentence - and dammit, it was a good thing Spike wasn't here.

Wesley's gaze hadn't softened. "If I'd known about it," he said, "I would have tried it. Unfortunately, it was one of those things one doesn't really learn until one enters the belly of the beast."

"Oh." She hoped he would put her watery-eyed look down to the tangles. "That's too bad."

"Agreed." His gaze was on his book again. "Still, better late than never."

When Spike returned, shoulders shelved with snow and smelling horribly of raw meat and dogs, she was lying with her face to the tent wall, ears humming with the force of the wind outside, eyes dry as stones.


"I still can't believe Sam bought that you knew what you were doing." Buffy had to raise her voice above the barking of the dogs and the swishing of sled runners on snow.

How the dogs could bark while they were running, she didn't know, but they could. The sled jerked and swayed this way and that over bumps and potholes, but overall it ran smoothly. On either side of the trail, tall pines, caked in snow, raised dark branches to the night sky. Somewhere, off amongst the trees, an owl hooted.

Spike was standing on the runners, leaning forward over her head. Sometimes he'd shout 'mush' or 'dig, dig' to get the dogs to pull harder, or 'easy, easy' to make them slow down. He glanced down at her.

"Dunno what makes you think I don't."

It certainly seemed that he did. "I guess I just…" Her words trailed off.

He raised his voice over a particularly loud burst of barking. "Told you way back when in Sunnydale that I loved dog racing, didn’t I? What did you think I meant?"

"Er.." She had no come back to that either.

"'Course," he conceded. "Things've changed since I last did this stuff. For a start, was in Russia at the time. Had to yell commands at the dogs in sodding Russian."

"I didn't know you knew Russian." She grabbed hold of the sides of the sled as they bounced over a snow-covered rut, and Spike yelled, "Easy, you bastards! Easy!"

"I don't," he said, when they'd settled down to a steady rhythm again. "At least, just enough to get by with. Angelus was the linguist. I just muddled along - pointed at stuff and spoke slowly and clearly- typical Brit abroad, in fact."

She smiled. "Typical American abroad too."

The mention of Angelus made her nape hairs prickle. Spike rarely talked about the old days, and he never talked about Angel - not any more. Not since that day she’d found him lying under a pile of dead demons in an L.A. alley and had to tell him that Angel was dead.

She hunkered down in the sled, under the blankets and water proof cover, imagining the two of them, Spike and Angelus, driving at night over some snowy Russian steppe - which were- confusingly- flat, so she'd read. They'd have a fancy sleigh, like Santa's, and they'd crack their whips over the racing dogs' heads and laugh together about their last kill, while Darla and Drusilla sat snug behind them, with those big Russian fur hats on their heads and a fur wrap over their satin-gowned knees.

Spike didn't have a whip. He'd said no sled driver worth his salt needed one. And anyway, she thought, dogs could never have pulled a sled that big.

Away to their right, Wesley was keeping up pretty well on his skis. He moved quickly on them, almost running, his breath clouding the air around his face. She was getting better at skiing, after the crash-course at Alyeska. It was fun, but it made her legs ache.

Overhead, ribbons of coloured light danced in the sky - red, blue and green. She stared up at them, dazzled by their beauty. Whatever else happened on this trip, she wouldn't regret seeing the aurora.

Wesley shouted suddenly. He'd stopped and was pointing with one ski pole towards where a dark rock formation crowned with a spinney of pines loomed out of the snow to the side of the trail.

"Over there!"

Spike shouted commands, and the sled veered in the direction of the rocks. When they were almost in its shadow, he yelled "Whoa!" and the sled came smoothly to a halt. The dogs all turned around to stare at him, panting. The leader was doing its Spike-like head-tilt again.

"Nicely done," Wesley said, as he skied to a halt nearby. "It seems you have an affinity with the beasts."

Spike took offence at once. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

Wesley smiled, though his eyes didn't. "Nothing."

"Like hell!" Spike muttered, and the dogs seemed to take their cue from him, snapping and snarling at Wesley, until Spike yelled, "Shut the fuck up!"

The silence after that was absolute, while above them, the aurora flowed across the sky in great, indifferent sheets of colour.

"Magnificent, isn't it?" Wesley had noticed Buffy staring.

"Yes," she agreed, while Spike muttered, "Saw better in Russia back in the day."

"That's enough!" She kept her voice low, even though the antagonism between the two men was getting on her nerves more and more.

Spike didn't answer. He was staring at the lead sled dog, which was staring back at him, clever blue eyes narrowed. "Wanker!" Spike hissed, though whether he meant the dog or Wesley was impossible to say.

Wesley cleared his throat. "This is the place I usually open the portal. It’s as good as any. In fact, better."

"And you work that out how exactly?" Buffy climbed out of the sled and stretched her cramped limbs.

"Well," Wesley bent down to unfasten his skis, "it's not an exact science, but this spot is distinct. Easy to remember. A good anchor point."

"’S’true." Spike had taken his gloves off and lit a cigarette. The scent of tobacco seemed stronger in the crystal clear air. "Pick your spot and angle right and the portal'll be almost invisible viewed from this side - like a tunnel in the rock. If things're like Wes says on the other side - no land, no vegetation of any kind, just a frozen ocean - it'll show up from miles away. You couldn’t bloody miss it, even if you didn’t have a nose like mine that can sniff out magic a mile off."

"Exactly." Wesley stood his skis upright in the ground, his ski poles beside them. He went over to the rock and pressed his ear to it, as if listening.

Buffy unloaded her own skis from the sled. "What the hell is he doing?"

Spike shrugged. "Some dark mojo or other. Best not enquire too closely."

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

Buffy patted the comforting shape of Willow’s magical homing beacon in her pocket. Even if Willow couldn't be here in person to scope out whether Wesley was on the level, it was good to know she was only a spell away. Or as good as magic ever was.

"Christ!" Spike muttered under his breath, like he'd read her thoughts. "I fucking hate this stuff."

"Me too." Buffy busied herself putting her skis on, which she managed better this time around.

Wesley was standing back from the tower of rocks now. He'd taken the box containing the crystal out of his parka pocket and was holding it outstretched, like he was offering it to the rock formation as a gift. Then, he opened the box.

Buffy threw up a hand to shade her eyes at the same time as Spike did, while the dogs, which had hunkered down in the snow, startled to their feet, yelping.

The light wasn't soft as it had been back in Wesley's office in L.A. but bright - pulsing rapidly. It seemed to come equipped with sound this time too, a low-pitched hum that set the ground trembling and the dogs barking like mad things.

Above the sound, Buffy could hear Wesley's voice chanting, though she couldn't make out the words. The air seemed to throb, growing difficult to breathe. She could smell ozone.

Suddenly, the lead dog made a break for it. The ganglines went taut and the whole pack was careering off back down the trail. Only Spike's safety rope kept him from an ignominious fall off the sled.

"Whoa, you bastards! Whoa!"

"Spike!" Buffy made to go after him, but tripped over her skis and fell.

"Dammit!" She came up, spluttering snow, to find Wesley standing over her.

"Need a hand?" He held out his.

"Thanks." Hot-faced, she allowed him to haul her to her feet and hand over her ski poles.

The air still throbbed, but less so, and the light had gone, with the crystal, back into Wesley's pocket.

Buffy blinked, peering at the rocks, but she couldn't see anything, except maybe a vague shimmering on the ground at their foot. "That's it?"

"Indeed." Wesley was putting on his own skis again. "I’ve hidden it at the base of the rocks, where the snow will conceal it from the idly curious. All we need now is the sled."

Back down the trail, lost in the trees, they could hear Spike shouting, and a cacophony of frantic barks.

When the sled finally reappeared, Spike looked thunderous and the sly-faced lead dog was - Buffy was sure it was grinning a self-satisfied grin.

Spike brought the sled to a halt beside them again.

"What the fuck are we standing around here for, then?” he growled. “Where's this sodding portal?"

"This way." Wesley pushed off smoothly on his skis and Buffy followed him, while the sled brought up the rear.

"Easy, easy!" Spike growled, and, as they came into the shadow of the rock, half under his breath, "This is bloody stupid."

In front of them, Wesley winked out of existence and the next moment, Buffy felt a horrible, whirling, churning sensation. She heard herself cry out. Then she was spiralling around, tighter and tighter, like travelling the whorls in a seashell. She almost expected to meet herself coming back the other way.

The impact of her skis hitting the ground jarred her whole body while the darkness of night gave way to what at first she took for daylight.

"Spike - get down!" But she'd done no more than turn around to grab hold of him as the sled drew level when she realised she was wrong.

Spike hauled back on the bridle. "Whoa! Whoa!" and the sled glided to a halt.
"Bloody hell!" he muttered under his breath

Buffy swallowed her nausea. She drew in a lungful of air and almost choked on the sheer, pure clarity of it.

"Oo-oh, boy!" She gazed around her in wonder.

They were on a snow-covered plain, which stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see, undulating gently in places. Above their heads, the sky was indigo blue, paling to azure at the edges and in the nimbus around the bright silver-gold moon right above them in the sky.

"Look." Spike pointed, and she followed his gaze towards the horizon, where another moon - a crescent - hung like a question mark. This moon was blue, shading to lilac where the light of the silver moon struck it.

"It's beautiful!" Buffy realised her jaw had dropped and shut her mouth with a snap. Breath gusted out of her nostrils like smoke. It was cold - far colder than the Alaskan winter they'd left behind. The frigid air seemed to burn her nostrils when she breathed in. Hurriedly, she pulled up her scarf to cover her mouth and nose.

Spike shrugged. "S’pose. If you like that sort of thing." But his eyes shone with excitement.

Wesley skied to a stylish, snow-churning halt a few feet from the sled. He pushed back the hood of his parka. "That went rather well, I think."

Buffy glanced behind them, then did a double-take. From this side, the portal was like a hole in the air, with the black rock formation and its crown of trees on the other side clearly visible, except upside down.

"Weird." She shivered.

"Just so," Wesley agreed. "And sorry if it's all rather…disorientating."

She frowned. "I'm fine. Not the strangest thing that's happened to me by a long way." She hoped she sounded convincing.

"Quite." Wesley smiled in a way that struck her as extra-patronising. Fishing in his parka pocket, he brought out the box containing the crystal and opened it. The crystal glowed softly in its velvet bed.

Buffy peered closer to look, but Wesley turned away from her a little, blocking her view of the gem.

She craned around him, trying to see. "So - which way is it?"

Wesley's gaze was fixed on the crystal. Shutting his eyes, he bent near to it as if listening to something. Then, abruptly, he shut the box lid with a snap and pointed.

"That way."

Buffy peered in the direction Wesley indicated. It looked pretty much like the other three directions- an undulating plain of ice, covered in a fine spindrift of new-fallen snow, stretching towards the horizon. She became intensely aware suddenly of layers of ice beneath her feet, miles thick, and underneath them, a bottomless ocean full of nothing but shrimp.

She shook her head. Okay, so maybe this was the strangest thing that had ever happened to her, bar falling for Spike.

"Watch it, you!"

Spike's voice snapped her out of her reverie. She turned to find him out of the sled and almost nose to nose with the lead sled dog, which was regarding him sleepily out of blue, almond-shaped eyes.

"Bastard!" Spike muttered, busy untangling tug lines. "You did that on purpose."

The dog's long pink tongue poked out of its mouth. It panted, looking pleased with itself, while the other dogs crowded close, fawning on it.

"Get back - bunch of arse lickers!" Spike nudged them away with his knee and they went, but reluctantly.

"Trouble in paradise?" Wesley asked, and Spike rounded on him.

"None of your fucking business."

Buffy sighed. She'd never known Spike so consistently bad-tempered before. This macho stuff had really gotten old real fast - to the point where it was hardly worth telling him to rein it in.

"We should get going," she said. "Guess I'll stick to the skis. Wes can hitch a lift on the sled, if he wants."

Right now, the thought of being ahead of the sled, and well away from the two men and their constant bickering was very appealing.

Wesley pulled up his parka hood. "I'll stick to the skis too, I think."

"Don't want your company anyway." Satisfied with his untangling, Spike crunched his way around to the rear of the sled again, refastened his safety line and stepped up on the runners. His chin, Buffy noticed, was getting kind of bristly, though he had a long way to go to catch up with Wesley, whose heavy five o'clock shadow had become beard some days ago.

"It's not my fault, you know." Wesley said, suddenly. "It really isn't."

Spike gave him a bleak glance.

"You're here, aren't you?"

Part Three

c: buffy, f: buffyverse, c: spike, c: wesley, a: shapinglight

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