Journey of the White Cave Clan

by
BmblBee





Part Sixteen

The White Cave Clan was restless. The sun outside their home was in its lowest position and the hunger burned in their empty stomachs. They had plenty of food waiting to be cooked and eaten, but none would have considered doing so. Not yet. They had been told to wait and that was exactly what they would do.

No one had seen any sign of their leader since he retreated to the cave of the ancients earlier that day. That in itself would not have been concerning, since the clan leader often went to the place of dark secrets and hidden truths when he sought answers for the crisis of his people. Today, however, had been different. On this journey of wisdom, Spike had allowed another to go with him. And not a member of the White Clan. Spike had taken a warrior of another people. It was a confusing and unheard-of act that appeared to be an unimaginable breach of protocol.

And so they waited. They milled about as they speculated as to the reason for the extended absence, and especially as to why Spike would have allowed Xander to see something that not even the White Clan members were privy to. At some point during the late day's fretting, someone raised the concern of Spike's safety. From there, the conversation grew heated and, as each notch of the sun was noted, the group grew more and more agitated.

"Why has he not returned?"

"How dare that Xander person be allowed in our sacred chamber?"

"What if he touches the ancients? He will bring curses and doom upon our people if he touches the ancients!"

"Why would Spike allow such a thing?"

"Maybe it was not his choice. Maybe he was forced. Maybe he was taken to the dark tunnels against his will and at this very moment, Xander is slaughtering him?"

When that concern was expressed, the rest of the horrified clan fell silent. They searched the faces of their companions to determine the level of believability, and it was quickly noted that this was a concept that held weight and validity. Immediately, disregarding their leaders orders, the men of the tribe, Penn, Coy, Froggy and Badger, all grabbed up their spears. Andy, still reveling in the glow of his successful kill, was given the nod and he too stepped up proudly with the other men.

Puff, the youngest boy, held back. He had made no kill and still belonged with the women in an area of safety. Quickly, Penn went about the task of organization. He ordered the women to prepare moss and stick torches for them to take into the dark tunnels while he gave final instructions to his search party.

"What's going on? Has something happened?"

"SPIKE!"

Willow was the first to rush to their leader as he emerged from the dark, stepping into the lighted circle of the cave fire. She cupped his face in her hands, and when she decided that he was uninjured, she bumped her nose to his in relief and threw her arms around him. Despite the strong reassurance of his embrace, the sour scent that encased his body caused her to step back and search his eyes for confirmation. The heady odor of mating surrounded them both, yet she still refused to believe it.

"It has grown late and you did not return. We were frightened for your safety."

As emphasis to her last statement, Willow glared at Xander, who remained silent and stoic at his mate's side. Spike wanted to take the time to console, comfort and reassure her, but he knew that other concerns took precedence over her feelings and that time was a premium they could no longer waste.

"I am fine, sister. Put down your spears. Prepare the meat and divide up the shares equally. All of you need to gather around the fire. We are to have a clan meeting and you may not like the outcome."

The women of the clan skittered around, piercing the meat on the spits and scattering the extra furs for seating, while the men rebanked the fire and replaced their spears by propping them against the cave walls. Well within immediate reach if need be.

An air of dread and anticipation filled the cave as the wonderful smell of cooking flesh caused a grumbling in their empty stomachs and they waited for the proverbial rock to drop. Which it quickly did. With every eye locked on their leader, Spike stood by the fire with his mate strong and silent at his side.

"The time has come to discuss the future of the White Cave Clan. In the beginning of time, at the dawn of the first days, the bird people fell to earth. They dug out this very cave with their bare hands and they brought the most fertile women on earth. Together, they mated and the White Cave Clan was born. From the first of us, we were the rulers of the earth. The pictures on the walls of our cave show the mighty beasts that were defeated and slaughtered to feed our clan when we were of greater numbers than the notches in the rocks
could count. We ordered the sun to warm our days and the moon to light our nights. We were the rulers of all we could see and even that which was not visible."

Despite the proud words that echoed through out the cave, the clan was frightened by the slight crack in Spike's voice as he spoke. The meat was all but forgotten as he continued. "But now, something has changed. The sun no longer does our bidding and it has moved with the migrating birds to warm the earth for other clans. We have all known this to be true for a long time but we were blinded by our need to cling to the old ways. I am the most guilty of this. For several seasons, I have waited for the sun to return. Xander says his wise men have determined that it will not."

Instantly, Penn jumped to his feet and he pointed an accusing finger at the man he himself had insisted they bring into their cave. "And you believe HIM? This could be a trick to drive us from our cave so he can take it for his own people. He could be lying! Why would you believe HIM?"

Xander's face showed no anger or offense, only a blank acceptance that said he understood their ire and objection. The truth was, if the situation were reversed, the Wind Clan would simply slit the throat of the messenger before the message could be delivered.

Although speaking to the whole clan, Spike addressed his response to Penn.

"The truth of my words does not come only from his mouth. It comes in all the seasons when the ice and snow cover the earth in the time that should see green seeds. The truth lies in our young who refuse to be born into a dying world. The truth hides from our spears when we hunt for the meat that will feed our people. The truth is all around us and I have been too blind to see it."

Froggy put a protective arm around his woman. Suddenly, the cave seemed dark and cold.

"But where will we go? How do we know that the others of our clan didn't just walk until they fell off of the edge of the earth? What of the tales of the demon beasts that live in the mystical forests? I don't trust him. I say we stay here and wait for the sun to return. We should dance and chant."

The others grumbled and murmured their agreement with Froggy. Xander gave a small snort and expected, as leader, Spike would now shout out his demands that he be silently obeyed and that any dissent among his people be immediately squelched. Instead, Spike squatted, lowering himself to their seated level and his face softened.

"I know this is frightening. I'm scared too, but I have sought the counsel of the ancients and I believe that this is what they want. Our time here in the cave of our forefathers is over. Whether that end arrives by our slow death from starvation or by our abandonment of our past, there is no changing the truth. I have heard in the whispers of the Old Ones' bones that Xander was sent to us to lead us to the land of the sun and life, and we are to return our cave to the moon and the dark. I was told that it is time to extinguish our cave fire and let the ashes blow into the wind."

The others were horrified at such a statement. They all turned to each other, hoping at least one of them would have an argument that would challenge Spike's assessment and decision. When none of the murmuring sifted out anything of value or validity, Spike rose back to his feet and he again stood at Xander's side.

"Xander is going to lead us. His clan is the Wind Clan and he has traveled the way every season since he was a boy. He can show us how to survive and find our way. He is to be listened to and his orders followed as if I...."

"NO!"

Willow sprang to her feet. Her questions were not about the shifting of a history. Her questions were of a more personal level. There was no shame or secrets among them. Each member of the clan had the right to know the intimacies of the others. What affected the one, affected them all.

"What is your relationship with this stranger? Why does this man stand at your side? If we are to believe what you say about the ancients, we have a right to know. I brought him from the land of dreams. I have a right to know."

Spike glanced over at Xander, who simply tipped his head slightly, curious to see how Spike would answer. Although he had no doubts about their mating, Xander resolved not to contradict any explanation Spike gave, even if it was a denial of their intimacy.

But he didn't. With a straight back, a proud face and a strong voice, Spike made his announcement. "Xander and I are mated. We gave the offering of our spilled seed before the altar of the ancient's bones and we have been sanctified. Our mating was destined and has been blessed by the elders. We stand as one."

The response from the others was immediate and mixed. Andy and Dawn grinned and snickered. The men, and particularly Penn, appeared outraged and the women were simply confused. Finally, Harmony had to state what she thought was the obvious.

"That isn't possible. A man does not mate with a man. There are no cave paintings that show a man lying with another man. A clan leader mates for the benefit of the clan. Why would you spill your seed for him?"

Spike thought for a moment as he chose his words carefully. At this point, nothing could be said or done that would divide the loyalty of the clan and shake their faith in him. If he and Xander were to lead them into the unknown, it had to be with the clan's unquestioning allegiance.

"I understand your concerns and confusion. As far as we know, the men of our people have not chosen to mate with their own kind. As leader of the White Clan, my mating is the business of all members of the clan. As a man, my choice of mate must follow my heart. My man-part never sought to breed a woman for a child and now I know why. It is because the ancients have charged me with the task of leading our clan from this cave to a new world. They have chosen Xander, and I have chosen him. He stands with me and I have
no shame in my pleasure of rutting with him. Besides, Xander says that a man rutting with another man is common in his clan, is that not so, Xander?"

Xander's eyebrows shot upward as he suddenly found the roof of the cave fascinating. He shuffled his feet and stammered. "Oh, um.... Yeah. Common."

Coyote Moon's face scrunched up as he leaned over to try and examine Xander from all angles. Finally, he squiggled over next to Dawn and he whispered in her ear, "Where do they put their breeding sticks?"

Dawn swatted his arm and blushed as Spike finished his speech.

"Now, we all need to eat our shares. We must be full and strong. Tomorrow morning at the first light of the sun, we will prepare to go. Tonight, as we celebrate the bounty of this meal, Xander will give us our first instructions. When we bed down, we will stop tending the fire. When the ash grows cold, we will begin our walk."





Part Seventeen

As the meat was prepared and the shares were divided up, Xander took the time to look over what was left of the White Cave Clan and he wondered why on earth he had agreed to such a foolish undertaking. Clearly, this group was in no physical shape to attempt the journey that faced them. They were underfed, slightly dehydrated and they wore their furs in a manner that was not conducive to extended periods of time in the brutal elements.

How did Spike talk him into this? Spike. Xander stared at the leader of the cave people. He watched the soft, pink lips as they formed the words of comfort and encouragement and the beautiful blue eyes that sparkled and danced with the reflection of the fire. Xander silently observed the flex and flow of Spike's muscular body as the white-haired clan leader wrapped his arms around his knees while he interacted affectionately with his people.

The sight of his man stirred the memory of the things they had done in the chamber of bones. They had stripped down naked and released each other's seed three times while exploring every hidden place and private body part. Xander may have lied about the men in his tribe rutting together, but he knew what he felt for Spike was no lie. Xander could never have imagined such pleasures in another person's body as he found in Spike.

But it was more than the excitement of the flesh. Spike was like no man Xander had ever met. He displayed the feelings and compassions of a female for its cub, yet Spike was a strong and brave clan leader. He was a contradiction in terms. He was fascinating. He was everything Xander wanted in a mate, and Xander had a sneaking feeling that if he wasn't careful, Spike just might make him a better man.

And that was why he had agreed to this doomed journey. Because while at first, he had been thinking with his man-part, now his whole damn heart was involved.

"Xander?"

"What?"

"I said, if you are ready, we want to hear what you have to say about the journey."

Xander clamped his teeth down on the overcooked meat at the end of his spit. He jerked it off and chewed it up as he thought about where to begin. After swallowing, he gave a nod of his head and he sorted out his thoughts, putting them into words.

"This journey is long and very hard. To be honest, not all of you will live to see the end of it. You have to understand that and be prepared for hardships along the way. The most important thing to understand is that once we begin, there is no stopping and no turning back. Now, we are already starting late so the first part of our journey must cover as much ground as possible. The moon is at its fullest light tonight, by the time it is full again, we must be at the place of high hills and waterfalls. If we can get to there, the hills have caves much like this one and we can bed in and rest for two days' time. If we have not gone that far, there can be no time of rest, we will have to journey on."

The others ate quietly and fearfully as they tried to absorb what he was saying. Lida sat quietly at the far side of the fire. Up to this point she had said little and had gone about the preparation of the food as though it were any other night within the cave. Now as Xander paused, she spoke up.

"I will not be going."

"Lida! What are you saying?"

Lida patted her husband's cheek and she reached for the hand of her beloved daughter, Dawn, who also stared at her mother with a horrified expression.

"I mean what I said. My body is bent and aches with the cold and age. I can't make a journey such as he describes. I was born into this cave and I have always known that I would die here. I have no desire to freeze in the cold wind and snow far from my home."

Her announcement caused a short burst of chaos as the others shouted. Badger declared his allegiance to his woman while Dawn sobbed that she would not go without her parents. Coy, in turn, became frightened by the prospect of being separated from the female he had waited patiently for and already held his heart. As far as Xander was concerned, he found this to be more than acceptable. Weeding out the weak and infirm at the start of the trip made the walking easier and faster. Unfortunately, he should have known that Spike would
not agree.

"No! We are White Clan! We are more than the cave in which we live. We are one clan. We are one people and where one goes, so go we all. I foolishly allowed part of our people to leave us and begin their own journey, and the division weakened us. We will not allow that again. Our strength is in our standing together. If one goes, we all go. If one stays, we all stay. If any of us has trouble on this journey, the rest will lend a hand."

Xander frowned and tried to talk some sense into his mate. Spike, if she thinks...."

"No, Xander. No. You are our guide and you are my mate, but I am still White Clan and we will not leave anyone behind."

Their leader's conviction seemed to calm the others, and silence again fell around the fire as Xander sighed with disgust and continued his speech.

"Formation is critical. The strongest male takes the lead. In this case, it will be me because I know the way. The other men surround the women and assure their safety and well-being. The men at the sides are to always keep an eye out for any animals that can be tracked and killed to feed the clan. On a good day, the clan will eat twice. In the evening at the fire, each member is given a share. You eat most of it at night and save a small part to eat in the morning before we start out. On the bad days, you will walk hungry."

The others looked at the shares of meat they still had on their spits and what they hadn't eaten was removed from the sticks and held for the morning. When Xander saw that they had understood and made the adjustment, he went on.

"When we leave in the morning, the men will each strap a tied bundle of sticks for firewood to his back, and the women will fill their pouches with dry moss. We must always be prepared to build a night fire to protect us from the wolves and predators. If we are in a place that has wood available, we conserve and continue to carry what we can. The young boys will carry the gut skins for fresh water. If we have to we can melt snow, but water from the earth springs is better. Now, we need to talk about your furs. It is critical that you have a
fur over your head so that you can block the winds and ice from your face. Keep your hands covered. If the ice claims your fingers, they turn black and rot. But your feet are the most important thing. Before you tie your furs onto your feet, there are things you can do to help keep the cold out. All of the feathers from the turkeys can be divided up among you.
Place a layer of the feathers between your feet and furs. It will help. Tie the bindings
tightly around your ankles to prevent the snow from getting in."

As the magnitude of what they were being told settled into the clan, the fear level again rose. There were details they had never considered and it spoke of a lifestyle that none of them wanted. Even Spike began to have doubts. Perhaps he had misunderstood what the ancients had whispered. Maybe they could still survive here in their home. No. He knew they had run out of options and any sign of indecision would appear as weakness. His resolve would stay as sharp as his spear. His people needed his conviction.

"We will do whatever you advise. My clan will do as you say."

Xander briefly considered simply slipping away under the cover of darkness. On his own, he could surely catch up with the Wind Clan and his life would go back to the way it was. He would challenge Liam as clan leader and he would personally kick the shit out of Web for the boy's treachery. If only Spike would come with him. He could not leave without Spike, and Spike would not leave without his people. Damn. Xander heaved a sigh and he shook his head. That whole line of thought was a circle without end.

"It is late. The moon is already high in the sky. We need to sleep, and first thing in the morning we will begin our journey."

Spike agreed, and whether it was out of habit or the need to hang on one last time to the traditions of the past, he built the cave fire high and warm. He listened until the others were settled in at the back of the main chamber and then he and Xander stretched out by the fire.

"Maybe we shouldn't rut tonight. I don't think your people like me much and they may resent us pleasuring each other."

Spike laid down on his back and tugged the larger man in encouragement to climb on him. Although he wouldn't admit it, the leader of the White Clan was frightened of the future and the solid weight of his mate brought him great comfort.

"No. My people need to hear their leader rutting. It will reassure them that all will be well. A clan leader that is satisfied and free to spill his seed with another is a leader who brings abundance to his clan."

Xander stared down into the troubled blue eyes and his heart ached to find a way to console his chosen partner. He wanted to promise Spike that all would be well and the journey would see them safely into a new world, but Xander knew that was a lie. He could just look at the White Clan people and pick out the ones who would die as they walked. And since Xander would not lie, and being needlessly honest would be cruel, he did the only thing he could.

Gently, he untied the binding that held Spike's furs and he pushed them from his mate's body. Unlike Xander's, the hair on Spike's chest and arms was pale and fine and the nest that framed his man-part was soft and nearly as white as the hair on his head. Lowering his face, Xander started at Spike's flat stomach and he began to sniff in order to know and embed the very fabric of Spike's being into Xander's mind.

Spike shuddered in pleasure as his body accepted the attention and his cock slowly filled and rose to meet the face that was working its way down. The predominant scent on Spike's chest was that of the skins of the animals he wore. As Xander drifted further, the smell turned sharp and sour. It was the odor of their expended seed from the chamber of bones.

The smell sparked the vivid memories and his excitement grew. Scooting around, Xander pressed his own rigid erection against the soft thigh of his lover and he began to hump as his nose dove in to the crevasse between Spike's stone sac and his thigh. The smell there was glorious and Xander couldn't get enough as he snuffled and snorted. Then in a show of affection, Xander did what seemed perfectly natural. He bumped his nose against the wrinkled stone sac and the hooded, pink man-meat.

Spike's response was immediate. He dug his fingers into the thick wild mane of dark hair as his hips arched up. His legs opened wider and the only sound he could make was a long, low groan of pure pleasure that echoed off the walls of the cave. By the third moan, the chorus was picked up by the couples in the far end of the cave and they sang the same sad song of love and comfort.

Then, in what seemed like the logical progression, Xander tasted what had smelled so good. The tip of his tongue tentatively tickled the root of the hard, ready flesh. When the flavor that filled his mouth shot hot waves of pleasure toward his own needy cock, he slapped his hot, wet tongue against the thick man-part and he licked the whole way up, ending with a swipe across the leaking tip.

"Oh, oh, yes! Again! Please. Do that again!"

The eager response and the feel of Xander's cock squeezing and humping against Spike's leg had both men moaning, cursing and shouting their pleasures, which triggered the rest of the clan. The couples rutted frantically and the unmated members smiled and dreamed of the day that they would know such love and joy. Andy and Coy took matters into their own hands and rutted with their fists and fingers.

Within moments, as Xander licked and slurped, Spike's cock jerked and spewed hot strings of white seed onto Xander's face. The shock and intimacy caused the bigger man to grab himself and after four rough strokes, he poured the seed of the Wind Clan onto Spike's leg as the future of the White Clan dried on his cheek. When he was spent, Xander crawled up to rest by his man, unsure how Spike would feel about the things he had just done. It was hardly the actions of a clan leader. It was more the rutting of wild animals.

Hesitantly, Xander lifted his hooded eyes and looked into Spike's. What he saw stunned him. Spike was smiling. He had never seen Spike smile. It was a sight that shamed the sun itself and Xander found himself grinning back. Before they knew what was happening, they started to giggle and then laugh out loud.

As the others of the clan completed their ruts, the leaders bumped noses and settled in for their last night in the cave of the White Clan.





Part Eighteen


THE JOURNEY BEGINS

None of the clan members slept much that night and by the time the sun announced itself on the cusp of the horizon, they were already up and pacing restlessly. Each of them had remembered what Xander had said last night and they prepared themselves accordingly.

Their furs were wrapped around their bodies in a manner such as they had never known, and when they were finished not one fur remained unutilized. When they were done, Xander examined each, giving his advice on what should be changed, tightened, retied or adjusted.

They then hurried to complete their other tasks. The women stuffed as much dried moss into their furs' pouches as possible, and Willow retrieved the medicine bag that had been her mother's on the insistence that its purpose was professional and not sentimental. Having been on the receiving end of her powerful medicine, Xander conceded.

As the men quickly collected and tied their bundles of firewood, Spike and Xander spoke quietly.

"I'm not stupid, Xander. I know our odds of making it to the warm lands are less than good, but tell me, what is it like? What is there for us?"

Xander's face lit up. "It's amazing. I know just the place for us. I saw it once when I was a boy and I went with my father. It is further on than my clan usually goes but it is the most wonderful place you have ever seen. The land stays warm all season long and the snow never falls. It is over the last of the high hills and settles in a green dale of clover and flowers of all colors. There are herds of deer and buffalo everywhere. Enough to feed a clan until they are fat and lazy, but that isn't the best part. The most incredible thing is the water. There is a pond of salty water so big that you can't see the other side. It stretches so far that my father said it pours right off the edge of the world. And the fish! A man can walk out with his spear and the fish will swim right up and jump onto the sharp end and beg to be eaten."

By now, Spike was laughing out loud at the outrageous exaggerations. No land could be like that, but it was a wonderful story and one that he would encourage Xander to tell around a campfire when the clan needed an incentive to go on.

"We're ready. I think everything is...oh, darn."

Everyone was dressed, packed and waiting by the mouth of the cave when Andy called to the leaders, but just as he hoisted his bundle onto his back, the poorly tied straps gave way and his stick pile scattered on the floor. Immediately Xander charged over and smacked the boy on the back of his head as he scolded him. Spike was stunned and furious. Roughly, he shoved Xander away as Andy tried not to cry while he gathered up his charge.

"The men of the White Clan do NOT strike children!"

Xander was in shocked disbelief. "Are you kidding? Our lives depend on that firewood. If he doesn't bind it correctly...."

"He will, but hitting him will not teach him how. Maybe the men of the Wind Clan find violence acceptable, but we do not!"

The others of the clan froze and watched as the standoff between the two leaders dragged on. Finally, Andy broke the stalemate. "I'm sorry, Spike but I fixed it. I've got it. I'm ready."

Spike huffed and gave his mate one last glare before he walked over, ruffled Andy's hair and gave his clan a critical inspection and pep talk.

"This is it. No more looking back or pining for the things that were. It is time for us to be the beginning of the new White Clan in a land of our own finding. Xander and I might not always agree on how to do things, but he is a good man. He is my chosen life-mate and he is the man we will follow out of this place of ice and snow. You will follow his orders as if they came from my lips. So, fall into the formation as he explained it and let's begin."

With no last glimpse of the cave of his youth or the fire that was dying within it, Spike led the way and they walked out into the harsh elements of a brutal nature. Quickly, Xander took the point position and he set a steady pace. The moment the shock of the harsh, cold wind stung their faces, the women faltered. They dropped their eyes and tugged their furs down over their foreheads as each of them questioned their ability to rise to this challenge or even their desire to do so.

With Xander at the head, Spike dropped back and fell into step beside Penn.

"We need to keep an extra eye on Willow. Her swell has become noticeable and her unborn child grows bigger every day."

Penn glanced over to where his woman had her head tipped down against the whipping wind and her furs clutched close to her frail body.

"I'm worried about her Spike. Will we make it out of the cold before her time comes? Couldn't we have waited until she came fresh before starting this long trek? How can we be sure there is even a warm place left on the earth. Maybe we will walk until we all drop and still find nothing but more ice and snow."

Spike's voice was low and nearly carried away in the wind that blew over them, but Penn heard both the words and the truth. "There was no more time to wait. We are long past the days of hiding in the cave and awaiting a child's dream. Xander has said there is a land of warmth and bounty and I believe what Xander says. He is a good man, Penn."

"Yeah, from the sounds of last night, he is VERY good."

"Ack!" Spike swatted his friend on the arm despite the grin on both their faces. After that, no more was said and the pack trudged on.

Spike looked up into the sky. The clouds were heavy with the threat of snow and they cast a grey pallor over the earth. When the clan had started out, the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon of their left side. Now, hours later, it was high over their heads and Spike wondered how far they had come. As a hunter, he and Penn had often spent hours away from the cave while they searched for food, but generally they worked a
wide circumference that didn't cover a vast distance from the women in the cave.

This was new ground. This was beyond familiar landmarks and known markers. These were long stretches of open ground that made Spike wonder how Xander knew when to turn and veer to one direction or the other. Still, through it all Spike carried a pride for the resilience and fortitude of his people. They had marched and walked in a steady pace since beginning, and if the sun was a good indicator, their first day was already half over.

Xander's opinion and impression of their initial start was somewhat less glowing and optimistic. They had not made the good time he had hoped for and his fears of the women's inability to maintain were proving true. More than once, the older woman had faltered and the whole pack had to slow in order to accommodate her. The day was half spent and they had not gone nearly as far as they should have. Their chances of having two days to rest and rut in the caves of the waterfalls was not looking promising.

And still they silently forged ahead. Most of their feet felt numb from the cold and their legs kept up the motion of one foot following the other simply by habit rather than conscious thought. On the brighter side, the men had twice broken from the formation at the indication of fresh tracks and they now carried several snowshoe rabbits and four fat grey squirrels. It wasn't an abundance of meat, but it ensured food at the end of the day.

As the position of the sun worked its way down toward the other side, Xander gave consideration to the clan marching behind him. If this were his own people, experienced in the journey and moving at a faster pace, he would signal for them to stop and prepare for the night. As this was a late start and a paltry distance covered, Xander made the decision to go on and they continued until the light grew pink and Spike grabbed him by the arm.

"My people are exhausted and cold. They are hungry and thirsty. We have covered enough ground and they need to stop to rest, eat and warm up."

Reluctantly, Xander nodded and he raised his spear over his head as he shouted, "WE STOP HERE," and he indicated toward a tight clump of trees that would serve as their windbreak.

Without words of relief or gratitude, the movement of the pack ceased. There they stood, with their heads still lowered and their arms hanging limply at their sides while they waited for their next orders. Xander now regretted pushing them the extra miles, but what was done was done.

He immediately tossed orders. The boys were to break off as many high, full branches from the evergreens as possible and spread them out on the ground. He gathered up fallen tree limbs rather than use what they brought, and he took some of the dry moss from the women. He knew in their present state, the women would be unable to use their hands to prepare the meat until they could warm their fingers by a fire.

Reaching into the hidden pouches of his furs, Xander fished around for the two small flint rocks that would crack, spark and light the fire quickly. When his fingertips brushed over the sharp tip of the prized boar tooth, Xander remembered the glorious day that they had killed the clan's feast. It was such a short time ago. Not even one cycle of the moon and now everything he had prized in his life was gone. He had lost his clan, his leadership, his family and he was left with this. A doomed migration that would leave a trail of death in its wake.

Looking around confirmed his fears. Everyone, the strongest men included, stood shivering with their arms wrapped tightly around themselves. No one had spoken a word since they had left their cave at dawn and Xander knew that once they sat down, he would pay hell getting them back on their feet. Quickly, he built the fire.

Like a clan of snowmen, the White Cave people huddled as near to the crackling flames as possible without being burned, and slowly they seemed to melt into human puddles that slumped to their butts. The women rocked and cried while the men attempted to console them. Penn pressed himself against Willow's side and, one at a time, he jerked off the furs that were bound around her feet. Gently, he rubbed her toes, arches and heels until the white pasty color gave way to a pink, healthy sheen. The others followed suit.

Spike postponed his own comfort and he took charge of the meat. He skinned off the furs of each small animal and laid them to the side. They would be utilized later. He cut the meat into shares and he stabbed as much of it onto four spits as he could. It would be divided after it was cooked.

Finally, the sun showed its mercy on the White Cave Clan and it slipped below the horizon, signaling the end to the long, torturous day. Very little of the meat was eaten and, as ordered, the rest was saved to be consumed in the morning. There was no chatter as the shock of their new life stole their ability to speak in known words.

When the instruction was given them to sleep, no one reclined. Instead they sat hunched against the elements and hoping the flames did not singe their furs as they sought its heat. Off in the distance, the baleful howling of a lone wolf was answered by another who called back from a far-off hillside. Directly above the fearful people, a hoot owl mocked the humans and questioned which of them would be the first to fall under the spell of the ice by its repetitious, "Hoo? Hoo?"

Adding to this atmosphere of dark gloom and frightening doom were the sad, muffled sobs of the women and more than one of the men.

Spike and Xander sat side by side with their backs to the fire. Their eyes and ears were constantly vigilant for any potential threats that may approach under cover of the dark. They watched for the telltale glow of a predator's eyes and the quiet snort of a beast seeking the scent of an easy prey.

"I think my people did really well today, don't you?"

Xander turned his face toward the outrageous, whispered statement to see if possibly Spike was attempting to make him laugh. In shock, Xander realized his mate was serious. Adding to the incredulous situation was Spike's hand which was errantly snaking its way beneath Xander's furs.

"Are you crazy? Has the snow and ice frozen your brain? Your people did NOT do well, and at this rate Willow's child will be an old man before we will reach the warm lands. And you might as well remove your hand. If you think I am going to rut with you tonight, you must be afflicted with a severe case of moon-madness."

Spike jerked his hand back and wondered who'd stepped on his mate's tail.





Part Nineteen

When the first rays of the sun stepped arrogantly onto the edge of the horizon it was met with groans and complaints of body aches and pains. The group, as a whole and in one voice, proclaimed that they were too tired, cold and hungry to go on. A discussion amongst them debated the pros and cons of demanding that they be returned to their cave. The consensus determined that a death in their ancestral home was preferable to dropping like flies in the cold of the bleak outside world.

Quickly, Spike endeavored to stem the tide of mutiny by reasoning with them. "We can't go back. We have already decided that we must go on. I know you are tired and frightened but this is our only hope. Maybe we can slow down. Perhaps if we take more breaks and build a fire when the sun is high to rest and eat. Perhaps...."

The more Spike tried to reason and pacify the group, the louder the grumbling of the dissent became. It was exactly the response Xander would have predicted if his stubborn mate had asked him for his advice. Finally, when Xander decided that it had gone far enough, he grabbed Spike's arm and, in mid-sentence, snatched him out of the earshot of the others.

"Spike. Don't you see what is happening? I know you think my way is cruel and brutal but can't you see that your way is worse? Your people are taking your kindness for weakness. By letting this whining and obstinate attitude go on, you will cost them their lives. They don't need an old woman to coddle them. They need a strong, unyielding leader that will force them on, even when they are refusing to go. If you don't change, you might as well bury them right here."

Spike stared into Xander's dark eyes as he spoke, and this time there was no anger or disgust in his response to the Wind Clan's way. This time Spike knew with absolute certainty that Xander was right. These people could be mad at him or even hate him if they chose, but they would do it in the warm climate. It was time to stand up and be the leader that his clan really needed. With that, Spike turned and marched back to where his people were milling around, waiting for Spike to put this outsider in his place and return them to their cave home.

"Get up! All of you! Shut up and stop complaining. All the time you waste with your whining and tears is time that we could be further across the land toward our destination. We all knew that this would be difficult, and we have not seen anything like the hardships to come. It has been one day and you are through? We are White Clan! Have some pride! Get on your feet and fall into formation! Now! If you haven't eaten the meat from last night, put your share in your furs and eat it as you walk."

Spike then did not wait for a reply. Instead, he kicked snow over the remnants of their fire and he hoisted one of the bundles of firewood onto his back. Quickly, Andy followed suit and hurried to stand beside his leader. Willow took Penn by the hand and they found their spots. Froggy and Harmony grumbled between them but they also moved into place. Finally, Coy positioned Dawn and her parents in the protected center of the group and he took his place at the rear. When they were all set, Xander signaled with the wave of his spear high over his head and the day's long walk commenced.

And so it went. Each day tumbled into the next with the only variants being the snow, or lack of it, the availability of food and water, and the clan's gratitude for the nights that they could find shelter rather than having to bed down in the open air. Always, always they rose with the sun at their one hand and they stopped when it settled on the other. They were amazed at the seemingly endless stretch of vast nothingness. The snow that covered the ground gave no sign of melting off and the bitter winds continued to sting and bite at any exposed skin.

Watching the night sky, it was noted the night the moon had fully disappeared and the group knew that they were half way to the promised cave of rest. While they still grumbled and complained between themselves, they no longer took their issues to their leader. Spike seemed to have emotionally cut himself off from his clan and now spent his evenings in low conversations with his mate.

Despite their objections, most of the group had to admit that they were getting stronger. By the end of the day, their legs no longer cramped and their backs were not bent and broken. Their appetites improved and they rejoiced on the days that saw a good kill and they conserved what they had when there was no game to be found.

The exceptions were Harmony, who still had to be chided and cajoled to keep up the pace, and Lida who was visibly failing. Over the last two days she had developed a cough and fever that were of great concern to her mate and her daughter. It was an issue that Dawn finally took to their leader.

"Spike. I need to talk to you."

Spike stood off to the side with Xander discussing the next day's expectancy when the young girl approached. She had hoped to speak to her clan leader privately, without Xander's interference, but she could see by his stance that he would not leave.

"What is it, Dawn?"

"It's my mother. She's sick, Spike. Look, I know you don't care about us anymore and now that you are with...HIM, you have changed. Your heart is cold and hard as a stone but if there is any compassion left within you, please help us. Do something for us. Please, Spike."

Spike immediately cupped the young girl's face in his hands and the stern creases around his blue eyes softened.

"Dawn, child, my heart is not cold. It still blazes with fire for every one of my clan. If I seem distant and uncaring it is only because my strength is what we all need. There can be no sway in my word or step. The distance and days that we have come so far is what we must do again in order to have our time of rest. Your mother is as if my mother too and we will do everything we can for her. I will have Willow make a poultice for her chest and I will order Badger to find a long branch that can be used as a walking stick to assist her. If
she can't walk, we will take turns carrying her. There is no place here for her to rest and
mend, Dawn but I swear to you that we will not leave her behind."

Dawn threw her arms around Spike's neck. She cried and thanked him profusely as she finally understood the changes in him. He was a great clan leader and the White Cave Clan was lucky to have him. She then hurried off to speak to Willow about her earth medicine. When she was gone, Spike turned to his mate, expecting a lecture on the foolishness of tending to one over the needs of the clan, but instead, the expression on his man's face was that of admiration and pride.

"You know, Spike, it is a thin line that a clan leader must walk between the care of his people and the unyielding strength that supports them. I am perhaps too rigid and unbending. I saw you as giving to the point of womanhood. I was wrong. You know your people's heart and yet you still do what must be done. You are a better man than me. You are a better clan leader than I was. I am proud to be your mate."

Spike choked up at the intensity of the words and the emotions behind them. He wanted nothing more right now than to lie down and spread his furs for his man. His breeding part tingled with the desire to be touched, sniffed and licked like a wolf pup.

Spike's breathing grew rapid and he scooted closer. They had rutted only twice in the two weeks they had walked and that had been just a quick, hands-under-furs groping to release. Although he had spilled his seed both times, the brevity of the encounters left him still unsatisfied.

Spike seemed to be in a constant state of need. More than once he had passed a tree with a broad circumference and he could imagine wrapping his arms around the massive trunk while Xander pressed Spike's pale flesh against the rough scratchy bark and they.... What? What instinct was trying to come to the forefront in Spike's body? What was it that he desperately needed Xander to do to him? Or him to Xander.

"What are you thinking about with that dreamy look in those sky blue eyes? Have I ever told you how pleasant you are to look upon?"

Spike's face nearly split with the grin that covered it. Glancing down, he saw the slight movement beneath Xander's furs and he knew the dark clan leader was also having ideas and itches that he needed a mate to scratch. Then Xander blinked. He drew back and his eyes darted over Spike's shoulder to where the rest of the clan was going about their nightly routine. Since it appeared that they were deeply engrossed in the evening's preparations, Xander could see no harm in them slipping away for just a few moments.

"Come with me. Let's tell them that we are going for a bit of a hunt. There is a small den-cave not far from here. We can wiggle inside and open our furs. It will be cold but our bodies will stir the heat of the sun."

Spike's eyes bugged wide at the prospect of a full-press body rut. His stone-sac tingled and his man-part urged him to hurry as it filled and fattened. Spike's heart pounded in his chest and he wasted no time asking to be convinced. Instead, he plastered his practiced stern-clan leader expression on his face and he turned to the group at the fire.

"Xander and I have seen some tracks in the snow. They don't look fresh but we are going to follow them and see if there is a game animal nearby that will provide food."

When Spike turned to hustle off, Harmony called after him. "Wait, Spike, you forgot your spear."

"Oh, of course. How silly that I would forget that."

Spike snatched the spear and he and Xander started off at a pace that was very nearly a run. Like two wild wood nymphs they lunged across the frozen surface of the land, leaping over fallen branches and hopping across the large boulders that dotted the countryside. Within minutes, they came to a small rocky hillside that was nearly consumed in brown, dead vines.

"Here. It's in here. Help me pull off some of these vines. It is somewhere along here. I'm sure of it."

Together, they grabbed and uprooted the dense web of interlocking dead vines that concealed the craggy rock wall. Just as Xander was beginning to doubt his accuracy of location, Spike shouted. "I found it! Hurry up!"

Rushing over, Xander saw the small opening and it was exactly as he remembered it from years ago. Immediately, he began shoving Spike inside. Spike dropped to his knees and started to crawl with Xander close behind. The men laughed at the discomfort of wedging into the den with both of their man-parts fat and swollen between their legs. The den was small. No more than five of a large man's feet stepped end to end and maybe twice that long. The rock ceiling hung low, preventing them from even sitting up, which didn't matter
as what they had planned required no sitting.

"Me. Do me like you did before. Put your mouth on me. Bump your nose on my pouch and flesh. Hurry. Hurry or I will spill before you even get your face in place."

Xander laughed at his mate's orders and need. He had considered demanding that he be pleased and investigated this time but the urgency in his groin prevented him from holding a rational discussion that probed the give and take of an equitable relationship. Instead, he wrapped his cold hand around his own erect flesh and he humped his hand as his dark shaggy hair fell over his face and Spike's lower belly.

The second the warm wet tongue found the cold, hard meat, Spike's head flopped back and his eyes rolled up.

"Grrrroowwwrrll."

Xander chuckled at the low, deep growling sounds his mate was making and he doubled his efforts to please him. The only sounds in Spike's ears were the buzzing of a million bees. He was close. His time to spill was foretold in the drawing up of his sack and the tingling burn that sped down his back and warmed in his crotch.

"Grrrroowwwrrll."

"Yes, Xander. It feels good to me too. It's time. It's time! I'm going to.... YES!"

Xander's own hand was still performing its duty when one small corner of his brain put together two plus two. What had Spike just said? It almost sounded as if he thought Xander had made the strange sound when clearly Spike must have.... Uh-oh.

Xander's face snapped up with the hot release still spurting from Spike's manhood. His eyes searched into the darkness beyond Spike's head and when his eyes were answered with two, yellow, glowing ones, Xander's own unspent erection was forgotten as he scrambled for his discarded spear.

"Stay down! Stay down! Keep your head down!"

Xander shouted the orders over Spike's prone body and without knowing the why, Spike read the fear in his mate's voice and he complied. In a flash, Xander's spear sailed just inches over Spike's face as he waited for some action that would serve as an explanation. It didn't take long. When the spear found its mark, a terrible screaming, wailing sound exploded and echoed throughout the den.

Crawling overtop of Spike's still flat body, Xander wiggled on top as he frantically thrust and stabbed at something Spike could only imagine. Whatever it was put up a proud fight as it spasmed in its death throes, while the pressure of Xander's full body weight all but prevented Spike's chest from rising to suck in air.

The blind, dark fight was close enough to Spike's head that he knew he could have reached out and touched it. Terror churned in Spike's stomach and caused his spent man-part to shrivel and hide. A condition he noted that Xander now shared.

Finally, the flailing of the beast stopped and Xander slumped. With the immediate danger past, Spike shoved and pushed on the man who was squishing him.

"Ugh. Get off. Get out. What was that? What just happened?"

Xander summoned all his strength and he squirmed and scooted backwards until he was out of the cave, then waited until Spike also emerged before he answered. "What just happened? I'll tell you what happened. There were three of us in that cave and only two of you are spent. You owe me one, Spike."

Both men laughed in reaction to the adrenaline rush of fear, and the triumph of cheating death one more time.





Part Twenty

"HEY!! A little help here!"

The men of the clan scrambled to their feet and they grabbed their spears as their leaders' voices called to them from the darkness. Before they could rush out into the night, Spike and Xander stepped into the circle of the light of the campfire. Their faces wore huge, triumphant grins and they dragged the carcass of a small black bear between them.

It was more than a cub, probably only a yearling, and it still wore the body fat it had accumulated in preparation for its long winter hibernation. The sight of it sent the entire clan into a frenzy of excitement and jubilation. Spike and Xander, who were splattered in the beast's blood, were hailed as heros.

Immediately, the clan went about the tasks of cutting, carving and boning the animal. The women started scraping the fur while the men marveled at the fangs and jaws of the deadly creature. Clustered around the warmth of the fire, they cut and cooked as they prepared the rest for transportation. Andy was the first to ask what they all wondered.

"What happened? Tell us about it? Did you track it to its den? Did it put up a good fight?"

Xander looked at his mate expectantly. He was anxious to see what sort of spin the leader of the White Clan would put on this. With a smile on his lips and a raised eyebrow, Xander egged him on. "Yes, Spike. Tell them how we killed this beast without falling upon its murderous, lethal claws and teeth."

Spike squinted an unspoken threat at his smart-assed mate and then he took a deep breath before spinning a tale that incorporated as much of the truth as he would weave within the lie. The others waited with bated breath to hear the story.

"Well, as you know, we spotted the tracks in the snow and Xander suggested we follow them. When we came to the rock wall with the opening, the tracks led inside. Xander was hesitant. He was a bit skittery of going in after it but I said, "My clan is hungry! If you are too afraid, you may wait outside!"

Xander's face reflected the shock he felt at the unexpected turn this fib was taking, yet he scowled when he realized that to contradict it would reveal their irregular activity, so he remained mum while shooting daggers from his dark eyes.

If Spike noticed, he gave no indication as he became absorbed in his own elaborate fable.

"So I dropped low, I held the spear tightly in my hand and I crouched to the level of the opening of the great beast's den. Xander stood at my back, but the cave was too small for both of us to fit inside. He offered to go but I said no. I am the leader. I will feed my clan!"

The others nodded amongst themselves. That sounded exactly like something that their courageous leader would say. Their hands continued their duties in the preparation of the meat but every ear was locked on Spike, who was now standing in the glow of the dancing flames. His arms waved and his body ducked and weaved with the descriptive reenactment. Even Xander was now enjoying the thrilling tale and eagerly awaited its ending.

"Its demon eyes glowed in the dark, yet I gave no consideration to running back to the safety of the night fire. Xander whispered to me, asking me what it was that I could see and I told him it was a bounty of meat protected by the claws and fangs of a great monster who would just as soon eat us as we would him. As we stared at each other, I knew he was planning his dinner of us and I had to move fast. Quickly, I squatted down to the mouth of the small cave. I refused to blink and he matched me, stare for stare. Then suddenly, before he could plot his siege, I LUNGED!"

The shouted pronouncement caused every clan member to jump in surprise before again leaning in for the rest of the story.

"I dove headfirst into the small, cramped den that left little room for the tossing of a spear or the grappling of a man's body. I knew I had but one opportunity before I would fall to the piercing of the creature's huge fangs. I drew back my spear and I tossed it straight and true where it found its mark! The beast was mortally wounded and I leapt upon it and finished it off with my bare hands!"

Spike stood, back straight and head held proud as the White Clan celebrated their leader by pounding the butt of their spears and various sticks of wood onto the ground. They whooped and shouted their gratitude for having such a strong and fearless leader. It did wonders for the morale of the clan and went a long way toward renewing their commitment in the journey.

Xander grinned. He understood the benefit of a leader with a magnificent kill to his credit and he made no move to contradict the details of the story. Instead, he joined the others in the back slapping and questions as though he had not seen the incident firsthand. Because really, he hadn't.

For the rest of the night there was a renewed vigor that bubbled around the fire, and few of them slept as the bear was cleaned, cut and the hide scraped and beheaded. After being given an extra large slab, Lida was bedded down and Dawn petted her mother's head as the older woman slept. By the morning, the lack of sleep proved no hindrance as they fell into formation to begin. With their stomachs and pouches full, the clan launched into a brisk pace that pleased Xander and filled Spike with pride.

The next few days were the best so far. The weather cooperated by staying, for the most part, clear and even on the days that snow fell, it was light and the wind had lost its cruelty. Their pace had picked up and Xander had a renewed hope that they would reach the cave of the waterfalls by the next full moon.

The one concern that remained ever present in Spike's mind was the condition of Lida. Although she was keeping up, the end of the days saw her more and more exhausted. Often she would fall asleep by the fire before the food was divided up and Dawn would have to coax her to eat. Willow was grinding herbs and roots, but the woman's health did not appear to find its footing.

The morning after the night's half moon, Spike began to notice a change in the landscape that stretched out before them. The wide flat plains gave way to the beginnings of a hilly trail that required them to climb up, over and around a more rugged topography.

In addition, the random copse of trees and brush had developed into a much denser forest which made the view of the higher hills in the distance harder to see. Although Xander was clearly still following his well-known trail, the clan now often had to drop to single or double file rather than their group formation.

From their home in the cave, they had been able to see clear to the edge of the world and now that view was obliterated by the vegetation and rock formations that seemed to sprout out of the earth and reach almost to the stars. When they stopped that night, Spike questioned Xander about how they could possibly traverse such a barrier.

"I've never seen a mountain before and your descriptions seemed fanciful, yet now that I see them ahead, they are bigger and more vast than I could have ever imagined. They are too high to climb, Xander, and the tops are frozen with an ice and fog even greater than we face here below. Isn't there another way? Can't we go around it?"

Xander walked from the trees into the clearing and he gazed up at the beautiful landscape ahead. It was breathtaking, and even though he had seen it every season since he was a boy, its size and scope always made him feel small and humble.

"There is no way around it Spike. It is the great wall that the earth has put up to keep us from the bounty of her warmth. Only a man who knows the secrets of her way can lead his people through. There is a trail. It winds around the lowest part, through deep crevasses and between some of the broken rocks. Only a clan who knows what to look for can find it. The journey is hard and will strain the legs. Your chest will rise and fall in the thinner air and the wind bites colder than anything down here on the plains. We must prove ourselves by facing the challenge and defeating her obstacles. It is her test of us. There is no other way."

Spike turned to his mate. Xander was tall, strong and masterful yet there was a glimpse of his boyhood in the shaggy dark hair and the big brown eyes. He was the most amazing man Spike had ever known and by Spike's count, they had just four more suns before they reached the cave where they would settle in and rest. And rut. And rut some more. Spike shivered with delight.

"You're shaking. Are you cold?"

Spike grinned and bumped his shoulder against Xander's playfully. "Not really, but I was just thinking about how warm I will be when we make the cave of the waterfalls. Although, you have to admit, you didn't think my people would make it this far, did you? You said we would need two days to rest but we are in good shape."

Xander's face scrunched up and he searched the blue eyes for a sign that Spike was either joking or just pulling Xander's leg. That's when Xander realized that the mistake had been his. Spike had misunderstood.

"Spike, the two days' rest isn't to recover from the stroll we have just taken across the flatlands. Except for the wind and snow, that was the easiest part of the journey. The rest is the challenge. The days in the cave are a time to eat, drink and rest. It is to build up our reserves for the days ahead. There aren't many game animals in the mountains other than rabbits and wild turkeys, so the time in the cave must also be spent in catching
and preserving as much food as possible."

"Oh."

"Hey, don't be discouraged. The good news is that we are fewer people to feed and we already have the bounty of the bear YOU killed."

Spike chuckled and blushed at the insinuation in the way Xander emphasized the word. Spike's guilty eyes darted around and he scuffed his woolly boots on the frozen ground.

"Yeah, about that. I guess I got caught up in...."

"I loved it. It was a story so exciting that it should have been painted on the walls of your old cave dwelling."

Xander pulled the shorter man into his arms and he bumped their noses together affectionately. His hands slid around and cupped the firm, round globes of his Spike's arse. With a masterful jerk, he smashed their groins together and felt one soft cock bump noses with its mate. Xander heard Spike gasp and knew that just a little slide and glide and roll to the side would have them both erect and ready to rut.

It seemed the perfect segue into something that had been on Xander's mind for some time.

"Spike, what do you think about our rutting?"

Spike pulled back to get a good look at his mate's face in order to guess what was behind this
odd question. What did he think of the most brilliant thing on the earth? He thought it was right up there with the moon and sun and stars and the air they breathed. But maybe Xander did not. Maybe he had come to his senses and decided that a woman....

"Why? Are you unhappy with our rut? I can understand that it wasn't fair for me to ask you to...I mean I want to put my mouth on your man-part too. Maybe when we are in the
cave we could...."

"No. I mean, yes, I do want your mouth on my breeding meat but that isn't what has been on my mind. Have you ever watched a man rutting with his woman?"

Spike shrugged. It was life. It was what mated pairs did. The elk and the groundhog did it. The skunk and the possum. All animals mated with one of their own.

"Of course. If my clan did not mate, I would not be standing here. Why do you ask? What has it to do with us? I really don't think our mating is going to result in a clan pup."

This time when Xander spoke, his eyes lit up and his smile crinkled over his entire face. Even though they were here all alone, he dropped his voice to a quiet, excited whisper.

"No but maybe we could do what they do. When the men rut, they put their man-meat inside the woman and they push it in and out. We could do that. I want to do that."

Spike blinked in confusion at what Xander was suggesting, but before he could ask for clarification, Xander's hand slid around and his fingers probed at Spike's scat hole.

Spike's eyebrows shot toward his hairline.