"Shut it – wanker!"
The blue moon was rising as Buffy poked her head gingerly out through the tent-flap. Cold, like a slap in the face, tightened the skin over her bones and made her lungs ache. She pulled her scarf up to cover her mouth and nose, staring out across the undulating razor-sharp waves of the frozen sea, gilded with moonlight, while a fine frost of ice crystals settled on her eyelashes.
From behind the tent, where the sled dogs were fighting yet again, Spike's voice rose into a furious snarl, then was drowned in the dogs' answering snarls and yelps.
"Trouble?" Wesley's soft, cultured tones speaking right behind her made Buffy jump. She pulled her head back into the warm fug of the tent.
The wind-burned skin around Wesley’s eyes crinkled with amusement. "Spike really does have a way with animals, doesn't he?"
She scowled. "That's rich, coming from you. They're antsy around you too. And anyway, Spike's a vampire. Of course they're not gonna like him."
Wesley's eyes drifted back to his book. "Yes, it's unfortunate. One would imagine that they sense the dark magic in my aura, just like they sense Spike's unnatural - er, nature."
Damn him, she thought. He hadn't changed. Still with that superior British air and the giant stick up his ass.
Outside, the snarling of dogs rose to a crescendo, to be followed by a loud yelp of pain that died away into whimpers. A moment later, there was the sound of boots crunching in snow, and Spike's voice again. "That'll teach you, you little bastard."
Sullen silence followed
Wesley turned a page. "Whatever the trouble was, Spike appears to have sorted it out. Permanently this time, one hopes."
"Yeah. Doesn't one just."
When he ignored her sarcasm, she made a face at his bowed head before slumping down in a corner and opening her pack. Her hairbrush was right at the top, along with her toothbrush – the only two items of all the toiletries she'd brought on this mission that she'd used regularly. Her soap and deodorant were at the bottom, untouched.
Somehow, knowing you smelt like a skunk didn't matter so much when everyone else smelt the same. In fact, she was kind of getting used to it. Clean underwear was overrated anyway.
As she was brushing her hair, which was so way past the greasy-needing-a-wash stage that it felt almost okay again, the tent flap opened, letting a blast of freezing air inside. Spike spat noisily before zipping the flap shut behind him. He was in game face, heavy brow ridges drawn down in irritation.
"Bleargh!" He spat again. "Fucking dog hairs – get everywhere."
Buffy stared at him.
"You bit them?"
He shook his vampire features away, though his human face looked just as irritable.
"Only the one. You know which. Gotta keep remindin' him who's boss."
"And did it work?" Wesley hadn't turned around. He didn't even look up from his book.
"Too bloody right it did. Wanker's not gonna fuck with me again." Spike pushed back the hood of his parka. Ice beaded his lashes and the heavy, dark blond stubble on his upper lip and chin. His face was pinched and white, a hectic flush across the cheekbones.
"I hope you're not being overconfident." Wesley spoke without looking around. "Again."
"And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
At once, Spike was all vamped up, across the tent, and hauling Wesley to his feet. He held him in front of him, dangling above the ground, hands fisted in his clothes.
"I don't." And with every word Spike shook him. "See. You. Being. Much. Bloody. Help. Tosser."
Buffy set her hairbrush down. "Spike – let him go."
Spike flashed her a nasty, fang-filled grin. "When I'm done with him." He shook Wesley again – so hard she heard his teeth rattle.
"Spike!" Buffy put on her Slayer voice this time. "I said, let him go. Now!"
Spike hesitated, mid-shake. He gave her a defiant glare, shook Wesley one last time and dropped him in a heap on the floor. "Your wish is my command, love."
"My command is your command too, and don't you damn well forget it."
Wesley coughed. As Spike bent down to retrieve the fallen book, Wesley gave him a look of sheer unadulterated malice and his fists clenched.
"Don't," Buffy snapped. "I'm watching you."
Wesley's hostile gaze swung around to her. "I didn't mean…He's…" His voice trailed off.
"Annoying?" she finished for him. "I know that, but I'm the only one who gets to tell him so. And don't you damn well forget it."
When Wesley opened his mouth to reply, she held up her hand for silence.
"Especially not when the two of us are taking so much of what you say on trust. Not that I do trust you, because hey, not crazy."
"I assure you –" he began again, but she shook her head.
"Told you, Wes. I don't wanna hear it."
Spike was flipping through the pages of Wesley's book. "Still readin' the same bloody thing, Percy? 'The Worst Journey in the World'. Sounds more and more apt every day." He dropped the book back into Wesley's lap.
Buffy picked up her hairbrush. "The book about that Captain Scott guy, huh? Or was it Stott? I don't remember. Sounds like a barrel of laughs."
When she looked up, Spike and Wesley were exchanging what she'd come to think of as their 'British' look.
"It's Scott," Spike said, with laboured patience. "It's the story of Captain Scott's journey to the South Pole, remember? Written afterwards by one of the rescue party."
"Oh -right." She blinked. "They were rescued? I thought you said they all died."
The British look again.
"They did," Wesley said. "That's the point."
Wesley leaned back in the heavy swivel chair, fingertips pressed together. He looked totally at ease, Buffy thought. Like he'd always been there.
"In actual fact, it's changed a great deal. One might even say, out of all recognition."
Spike indicated the plush carpeting, the broad wooden desk, the array of weapons on the wall behind it. Through the plate glass windows, the lobby was full of bustling business-suited people.
"Only difference I can see is that there's no Harmony answering the phone out there. Otherwise, it looks the same as the day we all volunteered for that suicide mission."
Wesley's voice was cool. "Interesting, isn't it? Of course, appearances are very important to Wolfram & Hart. Our clients rely on us to provide stability in their time of need."
He leaned forward, planting his elbows on the desk and resting his chin on his hands. The light reflected in his glasses, making it hard to see his eyes.
"When the Senior Partners reconstituted these premises, they were careful to replicate every single detail. It would never do to let our enemies think they'd gained anything meaningful from their treachery."
Spike's lip lifted in a faint sneer. "Whereas Wolfram & Hart…"
"…gained my services in perpetuity. Exactly." Wesley leaned back again, looking smug, an answering sneer on his own lips.
Spike frowned, but before he could speak again, Buffy interrupted.
"And you've been a busy boy in the last five years, haven't you, Wesley? Quite the little brown noser. Or are you gonna tell us it's all a front – that Wolfram & Hart helping to wreck Kyoto II was just a clerical error and that those devastating floods in Northern Europe last year were a natural disaster?"
"Not to mention that little business with the infestation of sabre-toothed Grinder demons in Indonesia," Spike cut in. "We'll be sorting the mess out for years."
Wesley's smug expression didn't change. "I don't see how you can hold me responsible. I'm C.E.O. of an L.A. law firm, not the devil incarnate."
"Like hell!" Spike's face rippled. "People died, you twat – thousands of them, and that's all you can say?"
Wesley's gaze flickered from Buffy to Spike and back again.
"The loss of life is…regrettable," he conceded, "though the excess of moral indignation is a little hard to stomach, given the source."
"The hell you say!"
Buffy put her hand on Spike's arm to restrain him. He was literally trembling with rage. She felt close to violence herself.
"In fact," Wesley leaned back in his chair again, "that's why I requested this meeting. Wolfram & Hart wish to make a charitable donation to the victims, and since your organisation has been so involved in the clean-up, we thought you were best placed to advise us where to channel the funds appropriately."
Spike threw off Buffy's hand and walked away across the room. "I don't sodding well believe this!"
Buffy met Wesley's bland gaze – a politician's, or a lawyer's. "I do. It makes perfect sense."
"Good." Wesley picked up a plastic folder on the desk in front of him and held it out towards Buffy. "The details of our proposal are in here. Perhaps once you've read them, we can schedule another meeting? I'm very busy, of course, but I'm happy to work weekends if that will expedite matters."
Buffy looked from the folder to Wesley and back again. "I don't think so."
Abruptly, the smug look was gone. Instead, the skin on Wesley's gaunt face tightened. He took off his glasses and leaned forward, his gaze intense - almost desperate.
Buffy blinked. There was something – odd about his tone of voice, and not just because he was a dead man walking. Like he was trying to tell her something without actually telling her.
She found she'd reached out and taken the folder just as Spike swung around, shouting, "No fucking way."
Wesley didn't even look at him. "Please," he said, again, softer this time. "If not for my sake…" His voice died away into silence, but the unspoken name rang loud.
Buffy tucked the folder under her arm before anyone could notice her hand trembling. "I'll have my people check it over – in every sense. Legally, magically, you name it."
"Buffy –" Spike was beside her, glaring at Wesley like he was dinner.
She frowned at him. "It can't hurt to just read it."
Spike didn't take his gaze off Wesley. "Yes it can. This is Wolfram & Hart. You shouldn't even be here. It's too dangerous."
Wesley leaned back in his chair yet again. The smug expression was back, but this time it didn’t reach his eyes.
"I assure you," he said, "there's no harm meant. In fact, the terms are positively advantageous."
"We'll see about that." Buffy turned on her heel, very aware of Spike's angry shadow at her elbow, and of Wesley's eyes boring into her back.
"Mush, you bastards! Mush!"
Buffy set her shoulder to the rear of the sled, crampons dug hard into the icy surface, pushing in time with the frantic pulling of the sled dogs as Spike urged them on.
For one horrible moment, the sled threatened to fall back and crush her. Then, there was an almighty jerk and the weight was gone off her shoulders, the sled up and over the lip. She yelped as her precarious toehold crumbled away, arresting her slide only by a frantic jab and twist of her ice axe.
She lay, plastered to the slope, panting, cold seeping through her clothes. This was no fun at all.
"Are you all right?" Wesley's face, framed in his parka hood, appeared over the crest of the frozen wave above her.
"Here." He held out his hand. "Let me help you."
"I'm fine." She kicked at the glassy surface with her crampon until she'd made herself a foothold, then another, and another, until her face was almost on a level with Wesley's. "Thanks for the offer, though."
Wesley had let his hand drop. He backed away from the edge and stood up.
As she hauled herself over the edge, to sprawl on her belly on the gentle down slope, she saw his eyes narrow and his jaw tighten. He wasn't looking at her any more, though, but instead back the way they'd come.
She got to her feet. Spike had brought the sled to a halt some distance down the slope. He was putting his skis on, all set to come back and help her. When he saw her, his shoulders sagged with relief.
Turning back to try and see what Wesley was looking at, she gasped in awe at the view.
They were on the crest of the highest of a series of waves that descended like a precipitous, gleaming grand staircase to what, for want of a better word, she was forced to call a valley. It was like a series of tsunamis had frozen instantaneously.
On either side, the wave crest went on and on, until it disappeared from sight to north and south, lost in the perpetual moonlit gloom. Two of the moons were up at the moment, the red one and the blue one, and where their light struck the ice, it was frosted with lavender shadows.
"It's beautiful," she whispered, awed.
"Indeed." Wesley was still staring back the way they'd come.
She frowned, peering in the same direction, but she couldn't see anything. The ground at the bottom of the rising ladder of waves was lost in a deep pit of darkness, their precarious path out of the depths so narrow that, looking at it, she could hardly believe they'd climbed it with a sled and sled dogs.
"We should keep moving."
Wesley turned away suddenly, skiing easily down the gentle slope towards Spike and the dogs at the bottom.
Her skis were stowed on the sled so she was forced to plod after Wesley's gliding form, feet sinking through the icy crust, thigh muscles straining. Slayer strength or no, she ached all over, and she was so hungry! It didn't help that she was eating for two.
"You all right, love?" Spike had skied some of the distance towards her, not as graceful as Wesley yet, but getting there. He set a hand on her elbow, and just for once, she was happy to lean on him.
"I'm okay," she assured him, "but next time it's your turn to push."
"Fair enough." He shrugged. "S'long as you don't mind bawling out Wanker when he misbehaves."
"Wanker?" she blinked at him, and he grinned, splitting the chapped skin on his lips. His long pink tongue darted out of his mouth to lick up the bright bead of blood.
"Yeah, thought I might as well just call him that and be done with it. 'Cos he is one."
They'd drawn level with the sled by this time, and Spike turned to snarl at the lead sled-dog. "Wanker!"
The dog put its head down on its paws and regarded him with soulful blue eyes. It whined deep in its throat. The bite mark on its nose had scabbed over but it still looked sorry for itself.
Spike gave the dog a baleful glare. "Yeah, you're not the boss any more, you little bastard, and don't you bloody forget it."
"Aww!" She limped across to the sled and leaned on it. "Don't be mean to him."
"Mean?" Spike looked outraged, but not with her.
"Brown noser!" He glared at the dog some more, while the dog just gave Buffy a pathetic look and whined again.
Buffy couldn't help laughing, though the cold was so intense her throat hurt, and now the sweat was drying on her, she was beginning to shiver.
"You should travel in the sledge for a bit." Spike's voice was edged with concern. "Recover your strength."
She opened her mouth to say no, but then thought better of it. She wasn't the only one relying on her strength.
"Okay." She unfastened her crampons and climbed onto the sled, and he piled blankets on her and drew the waterproof cover right up to her chin. It always made him feel better if he was allowed to fuss over her.
"You're worried, aren't you?" she said, when he finally had her tucked up to his satisfaction.
He glanced at her sharply. "How d'you make that out, Slayer?"
"Dumbass! I know you, that's how – and even if I didn't, you calling me 'Slayer' instead of Buffy is kind of a giveaway."
He looked caught out, and she frowned.
"If you're hiding anything from me, Spike…"
For answer, he glanced over his shoulder to where Wesley was standing some distance away, half-turned away from them, leaning on his ski poles. He wasn't looking forward, but back the way they'd come. Again.
Spike hunched his shoulders. "Bloke's lying to us. You know that, don't you?"
"Sure." She shrugged. "I've always known it. Kind of comes with the territory, him being a minion of evil. Like he said before we set off on this mission, it's not really his fault."
Spike frowned. "That's not what I meant. Doesn't it strike you as a little too bloody convenient that nothing mechanical works in this dimension? This would've been a piece of piss if we could've used a snowcat."
Buffy indicated the tsunami, frozen forever in the act of breaking. "I don't think so."
"All right," Spike conceded, "maybe not, but we're stuck moving at a snail's pace, figuratively speaking – and Wanker there might as well be a snail – completely reliant on Percy's magical inner compass, or whatever the fuck it is, telling us which way to go, and even magic's hit and miss here. Bloke could be leading us into a trap – or more specifically, leading you."
He shrugged. "I mean, stands to reason, Wolfram & Hart'd like to get rid of you if they could – leader of the Slayers, greatest force for good left in the world, etcetera, et-bloody-cetera."
"All true," she agreed, "but it doesn't seem to have bothered you that much until the last few days. Something's changed, Spike. What is it?"
Spike glanced at Wesley again. When he turned back, his eyes flashed yellow. "There's something followin' us. I can sense it - and Percy there knows it perfectly well. In fact, I think he expected it right from the start."
She frowned. "And you've known this for how long exactly?"
He had the grace to look a little sheepish. "Didn't know, just guessed. But now I'm certain of it. Look at him."
Wesley did look antsy, it was true, shifting from foot to foot and throwing agitated glances in the direction of the icefall. As they watched, he turned to them and called, "We really have to get moving, I think. There's still a long way to go."
"Okay," she called back, waving at him.
"See?" Spike muttered.
"I do." She was still frowning. "What I don't see is why you didn't say anything before."
He froze in the act of walking around to the rear of the sled. He licked his lips. "I didn't wanna worry you?" he said, in a tentative voice.
"Dammit, Spike -"
"Okay, okay." His shoulders slumped. "It's just – I know why you agreed to come on this mission, and it has nothing to do with the bloody apocalypse. I mean, stop one, and another'll be along a year or so later, yeah?"
His face had gone very pale, the raw patches where the skin had been burnt by the wind standing out startlingly. "I'm just saying, you don't owe him anything, Buffy. Angel did it to himself."
A white-hot flare of anger burst inside her. For a moment, she saw red – literally. When she could see again, Spike had taken several paces back, which was just as well, because for a moment she wanted to pummel him into dust.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Not my bloody business. Spoke out of turn."
She breathed in and out, until she could trust herself to speak.
"Not so. If you think my judgement is off, it's your duty to tell me."
"Buffy –" he began, but she held up her hand for silence.
"Likewise, if you hide anything like that from me again, you won't like the consequences. Understand?"
He'd gone stiff. "Understood."
"Well, good." She settled back down in her nest of blankets, while he kicked the sled into motion.
Soon, the barking of sled dogs had drowned out the uncomfortable silence.
Wesley pressed his fingertips together in that infuriating way of his. “Well, it’s Sunday.”
Spike laughed. “So? No rest for the wicked. Isn't that what they say?”
“They are wrong.”
Buffy looked from Spike to Wesley and back again, in time to see Spike take his hands out of his pockets and sort of swell. The two men had been glaring daggers at each other ever since she and Spike had entered the room.
“Guys,” she interjected, “can we have a little less of the macho posturing and a little more of the useful talking?”
Spike tore his eyes away from Wesley’s with difficulty and when he looked at her, she saw a brief yellow flash.
“Sorry, love. This pillock used to annoy me when he was alive. Now he’s dead – or whatever the hell he is - he’s twice as bad.”
“That’s probably truer than you think.” Wesley leaned back in his chair, fingertips still pressed together. “Wolfram & Hart do have a certain reputation for corrupting the innocent. And though I don't claim to have been innocent, it’s not really my fault. I made the ultimate sacrifice, and yet, here I am – trapped by the fine print.”
Spike’s lips pursed. “There is that,” he said, reluctantly. "Can't deny you had a rough deal, even if you are a self-serving tosser."
“And,” Buffy cut in, because, as so often, Spike seemed to have lost track of the bigger picture, “he’s trying to make amends here.”
The pursed lips became a thin line. “So he says,” Spike growled. "Proof's in the pudding innit?"
Wesley sighed. Taking off his glasses, he wiped a hand across his eyes. He looked tired, Buffy thought, and also, she couldn't help noticing, kind of hot now he was all scruffy, which he never had back in his Watcher days.
“I know it’s hard to believe,” Wesley said. “Here I am, bound by contract to serve Wolfram & Hart in perpetuity, completely dependant on them for my continued existence, and to all intents and purposes gleefully doing their will, and yet I’m trying to subvert the most cherished item on their agenda.”
Buffy glanced over her shoulder, to where a security camera turned its blank, black eye on the room. “Aren’t you worried they might be listening?”
“No, not really. Being C.E.O. does have its advantages. Not least of which is access to the kinds of magic that will throw the Senior Partners off our trail.”
Wesley stood up and moved over to the window. “Besides, I've done more than enough in the last five years to earn their trust, wouldn't you say, and I think their suspicions would be far more quickly raised had I arranged to meet you elsewhere.”
Buffy watched him devolve from a man into a silhouette - a shadow shape- outlined in the glare from outside.
“Sounds kind of – convenient.”
Spike was leaning against the wall, arms folded, cold gaze on Wesley “Yeah,” he said. “I thought so.”
When he looked her way, he was frowning. Nice to see they were on the same page.
Wesley turned back into the room. Now, all that could be seen of him were his bright, glittering eyes.
“I understand why you feel that way about me, and believe me, if I could have done this on my own, I would have. But I can’t. I need your help.”
Buffy folded her own arms, mirroring Spike's pose. “Why us? Okay, so you know Spike a little bit, but it's not like you two get along, and as for you and me, Wesley – we haven’t met since I was in High School, and we weren’t exactly best buddies back then either.”
Wesley turned to stare out of the window again, into the bright, breezy daylight.
“Because there is no one else. I’m alone here. I’ve been alone ever since – since…” His voice faltered to a stop.
Buffy cleared her throat – and damn her eyes for prickling.
“You’re asking us to take an awful lot on trust – on the word of a man who, by his own admission, belongs to Wolfram & Hart body and soul. And like you say, you haven't exactly covered yourself in glory since they brought you back. Thousands of deaths, Wesley.”
“I know that.” When Wesley turned to look at her, his eyes were still glittering but this time with moisture. His face was wet too. The prickling in Buffy's eyes grew worse.
“I may be their slave," Wesley said, "but ultimately I’m not their creature. I may not be able to prevent lesser evils, but I won’t let them end the world while I still have a chance to prevent them.”
"Lesser evils," Spike sneered. His lighter snapped –once, twice – and the scent of cigarette smoke filled the room.
“Sit down, Wesley.” Buffy indicated the desk chair. When Wesley just looked at her, she indicated again. “Sit.”
After a moment, he did as she said, sliding back into his chair while keeping a wary eye on her. She heard Spike give a small, derisive snort.
“Okay, spill. What’s the exact sitch, because you were being all Cryptic Guy in your proposal thing, and not just because it was so encrypted it took Willow a week to – er, decrypt it.”
Wesley put his glasses back on. Was it her imagination, she wondered, or was his skin kind of – greyish? She hadn't noticed before.
“The situation is as follows: Wolfram & Hart have a long-standing desire to bring about the Apocalypse on their terms.”
“That again!” Spike muttered.
“Shush!” She glowered at him, eliciting another shrug and a raised eyebrow. “Go on, Wesley.”
“As you know,” Wesley went on, “Angel tried to ruin their plans once and for all by killing the Senior Partners’ agents on this plane, the Circle of Black Thorn. However, with an organisation like Wolfram & Hart, if you cut them down in one place, they just spring up elsewhere even stronger.”
Spike was looking at her, Buffy knew, but she couldn’t meet his eyes.
“Angel hurt them,” Wesley said, “but not enough, and now they’re back, stronger than ever, and ready to try again. Unless we stop them for good.”
He opened his desk drawer and drew out a carved wooden box. The wood was glossy, with a pinkish lustre to it. Wesley’s hand smoothed over its surface.
“What’s that?” Spike had pushed away from the wall. “Don’t you fucking dare open it near the Slayer.”
“It’s okay, Spike.” Buffy half-smiled at him. He could be over-protective sometimes, but then he took his Executive Officer duties very seriously. “What is it, Wesley?”
“It wouldn’t hurt her,” Wesley said, in a soft, almost dreamy tone. “It’s taken me every day since I was revivified to track this down, but at last I have it. We take the contents of this box to the right place, and Wolfram & Hart's apocalypse will be indefinitely postponed.”
“And this right place would be?” Buffy asked.
Wesley looked up at her. “That other dimension I mentioned in my proposal– the one where Wolfram & Hart have no influence.”
She indicated the box. “Open it.”
“Buffy –" Spike came to her side.
“It’s okay.” She hoped it was.
Wesley’s fingers fumbled with the catch. As he opened the box lid, the light in the room seemed to dim, or rather it seemed to flow into the heart of the blue-and-white crystal in its bed of velvet and make it glow more brightly.
“It’s beautiful,” Buffy whispered.
“Isn’t it?” Wesley was staring at the crystal, obviously entranced.
“Soo-“ Spike sounded very unimpressed. “What? We take this crystal to the Fortress of Solitude in the Dimension of Doom, or whatever the fuck it’s called. Then what?”
“The world doesn’t end,” Wesley said, simply. "And hopefully, no one will even notice."
Buffy caught Spike’s eye. “Sounds like a plan.”
Spike frowned. “You believe this tosser?”
Buffy shrugged. “Not exactly, but after what happened last time, I'm not willing to take the risk."
Spike opened his mouth to answer, but then seemed to think better of it. Instead, he turned on Wesley again.
“Just one more thing I want to know. If we do this thing, why do you have to tag along? And won’t your bosses realise you’re missing and send out a search party? That'll give the sodding game away.”
Wesley shut the box with a snap, immuring the crystal and its stolen light.
“Not really,” he said. “As it turns out, perpetuity clause or no perpetuity clause, the terms and conditions of my original employment contract still stand. I’m owed a vacation, and I think it’s past time I took it.”
Buffy halted beside him. Through the moonless murk, she could just make out a dark heap of something far away on the ice.
Over to their left, Spike was yelling at the dogs – his usual brand of encouragement, which even at this distance turned the air blue around him. The dogs seemed to like it though, because the more Spike swore at them, the faster they ran.
"I don't remember him being quite so foul-mouthed," Wesley remarked, "back when we were – let's say, comrades in arms."
"He's not usually like this." Buffy set off skiing again, a perverse part of her wanting to make the depot before the dogs did, even though turning her back on Wesley gave her the creeps.
She heard him coming after her, moving easily, as if he'd been born to it – but then he'd had enough practice the last five years.
"I still can't believe you laid all these supply depots by yourself." She raised her voice over the whine of the wind and the barking of the dogs. "It must have nearly killed you. That is – I mean –"
"If I weren't dead already?" he shouted back. "Quite."
"How long did you say it took you?" Maybe he'd slip up when he answered the question this time – contradict himself?
When he didn't reply, she looked back over her shoulder, to catch him in the act of doing the same – staring back the way they'd come, as if he were looking for something.
Spike's fears from earlier came back to her. Not that she believed them. If Wolfram & Hart wanted her dead, they would have killed her long ago and back in their territory. But that didn't mean Wesley was on the level. Whatever cards he was holding, he kept them very close to his chest.
The depot drew nearer, the boxes of supplies stacked neatly and covered with tarpaulin to keep them dry. There was another, smaller mound some distance from the main one, irregular in shape and half-buried in snow.
"What's that?" But she kept moving, and again Wesley didn't answer. The dogs, meanwhile, were going crazy, their barks and yelps drowning out Spike's hoarse-voiced obscenities.
"Oh my God!" Buffy dug her ski poles in hard to bring herself to a stop. She put her hand over her mouth, staring in horror at the heaped corpses of a dozen sled dogs.
She rounded on Wesley. "What happened here?"
Wesley had halted some distance away. He was doing the stone-faced thing again.
"I would have buried them if I could," he said. "But as I'm sure you understand, it wasn't possible."
"You killed them?" She gaped at him.
He looked away. "I had to. They became completely unmanageable."
"That's…" She'd been going to say 'barbaric', but then he looked at her again, and his face was so bleak that the word died in her mouth.
"Why do you think I never offer to help Spike with the dogs? I'm perfectly competent, Ms Summers. It’s just that it would be counter-productive."
"Yeah." She eyed him dubiously. "I bet you're competent at all sorts of things."
Behind her, the dogs' barking had turned to furious snapping and snarling.
"'Oi!" Spike shouted. "Manners, you bastards!"
She began to turn towards the sound, but Wesley said, "I wouldn't look if I were you."
Something about his tone grated on her last nerve. "Screw you, Wes."
The sight that greeted her eyes made her gorge rise and the sweat break out on her forehead, but somehow or other she swallowed the nausea back down.
"That's – that's just eww!"
Spike was standing beside the sled. He'd set the dogs loose and they were busy tearing the frozen corpses limb from limb before wolfing down the scattered pieces.
She drew in a deep breath, trying not to gag, but she made herself go on looking. She wouldn't give Wesley the satisfaction.
Spike was staring at Wesley with hostile, suspicious eyes. "No wonder you didn't want to hire dogs from somewhere your face was known. You really are a cold fucking bastard, aren't you, Percy?"
Wesley's voice was remote. "When I have to be. In this instance, as I told Ms Summers, I had no choice. I was on the way back from laying the final depot and I think being in such close proximity to me for such a great length of time drove the dogs mad. It was me or them."
"Know how they sodding well felt," Spike muttered. He aimed a kick at two of the dogs that were trying to tear chunks out of each other rather than out of the dead animals. "Stop that, you fuckers! Don’t be so sodding greedy. Plenty there for everyone."
"You made your way back alone – from here?" Buffy gaped at Wesley in astonishment. "Down the ice-fall?"
Wesley shrugged. "Needs must when the devil drives."
Ain't that the truth, she thought, but didn't say. Instead, she skied over to join Spike beside the sled, leaving Wesley isolated, alone on the ice.
Spike shook his head. "Not yet. Storm's coming, though."
"Not again!" Her shoulders sagged. This would be the third time.
"'Fraid so." Spike was still staring at Wesley. "Gonna be stuck here. Could be this is where we find out the truth about Percy, love."
"You mean –"
"Yeah. Is he running from what's behind us, or is he waiting for it."