Two Squared: 3
Xander and Spike were lying tip to tail, pleasuring each other in the shade of a palm in the heat of the late afternoon – lazy strokes of the rough hot tongue over the initially furred then finally exposed shaft of their significant other, driving both to a snarling conclusion. Apparently it was far from the behavior expected of young tigers, but something residual and necessary ‘from before’, the most robust of their memories and their connection compelling them.
Their handlers were stunned when they first saw it merely weeks after the two had arrived, but let the daily act continue, assuming it to be some sort of tiger cleaning ‘thing’, or at worst that it was comfort for the captive male tigers. The fact that the two were now almost fully grown (with some muscle mass still to come) continuing the act and seemed to remain surprisingly compliant and loyal to their master and each other, simply served to reassure the handlers that nothing was amiss.
Ahmil was spending more and more time with them as his own day of forced departure approached. The boy was sitting in the enclosure, leaning against Xander’s strong back whilst rather dejectedly yet no less gently, grooming Spike’s white and grey fur, when the two foreign visitors peered through the Perspex.
Spike tensed and half sat up pricking his ears a little, the scent was oddly familiar, some old memory, but as his young master leaned down and whispered reassuring nothings in his ear, he relaxed back to the soft horse hair brush and simply swished his tail contentedly.
“As you see, they are both happy and healthy in our care.” The Sheikh’s perfect upper-class accent gave away his Eton/Oxbridge education. “I am led to believe Mr Giles, that you were at Oxford in the sixties was it, I confess I must have ‘followed’ you?”
Giles simply smiled. He had done his homework before arriving, knowing the prince was quite the scholar and an extraordinary businessman. “Indeed, though I am a Reading boy not quite as prestigious as your education, your Highness.”
“Ahh but … may I speak frankly, one old boy to another?”
“Of course, I would be honored.”
“I would like your opinion, Mr Giles. My son is about to go to Eton, as a border of course, yet his roots are here, indeed I fear he is far more attached to his home country than I. I left it rather late for him, as you no doubt know… After my first wife died it was difficult.” The Sheikh looked pained and though Giles knew from his own research that the minor monarch now had four other wives and seven children, his first love had been Ahmil’s mother.
Giles was genuinely saddened and offered, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Indeed… thank you. The upshot is, however, that Ahmil is older than I was when I went away to school. He is, at fourteen, a top student on all the standard tests and the scholarship exams and had attended his studies to date with private tutors. His academic record is outstanding. Mr Giles, I know you are not necessarily in the education realm, but I seek a mentor for him in England… and more particularly, a place for his tigers. You see, he has refused to go without them.
“I have exhausted my contacts regards housing them close by but surely… you must have a spare enclosure at the zoo, or on your private estate… if it is necessary I am happy to donate one?”
“I… We would be honored highness. I am sure that my private estate could accommodate them. Though it may be well to consider the animals’ welfare, it does seem that they have a wonderful home here.” Giles gestured to the enclosure and the Sheikh beamed with pride.
“Ahh yes it is based on the San Diego Zoo enclosures. I will of course ask their designers to assist you if there is no such facility at your establishment.”
“Thank you, that would be most helpful.”
“It is settled then.”
“Do you mind your Highness… if my colleague and I examine the animals. They are obviously happy and healthy in your handlers’ care, but we would want to do the right thing by them also, particularly if they are to be moved and housed at one of our facilities.”
“Of course … of course…” Ahmil’s father led the guests to the rear door at the entrance of the enclosure.
Ahmil stood and greeted the visitors his hand on the shoulders of the two tigers flanking him.
They, like their owner, were lanky teenagers, though the tigers at fifteen months were full height, and fast gaining their adult muscles with each passing month.
Giles and Willow stopped just inside the door of the enclosure. Though he and Willow were reasonably confident of the ‘heritage’ of the two tigers, neither could be sure of how much of their original memories or nature they had maintained.
“Hello Ahmil, We are from… London and are hoping to help you to keep your, ahhh, pets with you when you move to school…” The two tigers leaned against their master and began growling, the familiar scent confusing them and for Xander, hearing English spoken began to evoke bizarre flashbacks.
Giles continued, “Well, ahhhh, that is not exactly *with* you, ‘in digs’ as it were, but … ahh… as nearby as possible… at your father’s request of course!”
Ahmil looked relieved and his pets relaxed a little.
“May we examine them?”
Ahmil looked stunned for a moment but quickly regained composure and was happy to stand aside, though still within ‘intervention’ distance, possessive and protective, should his tigers be stressed.
Giles stood back as Willow squatted down and waited for the two large cats to approach and investigate her. Xander and Spike both recognized the scent from what seemed like ancient memories. They padded toward the crouching wiccan and forced her to kneel as the pushed their weight against her from both sides.
Willow for her part stroked and petted the attentive felines and felt their auras. It had to be Xander and Spike. What puzzled her was that the aura’s were not indicating hurt or distress, rather they both seemed… content. Regardless, it was definitely their former friends in the bodies of a white and a golden tiger.
Xander remembered the smell, saw flashes of “Yellow crayon”, and “High school kisses”, and “dangerous witch", and “white hair” But for some reason, he still couldn’t quite make sense of them all. His human memories had become so vague now... There was definitely a name for that smell though. He tried hard and failed, consoling his inability by rubbing against the pretty human and licking his mate. He sent a query through their link and received a subdued reply.
Spike had a clearer recollection of the scent and for some odd reason, still felt her magic. He nuzzled her hand gently and purred hoping to discover more.
Willow could not help herself, she was enthralled. These were magnificent creatures, soft to the touch and deadly in their own right if allowed to release their full physical strength. The white tiger nuzzled her hand and the blue eyes seemed to recognize her, or she may have simply be responding to the deep resonance of his purr, as he brushed against her, the oversized cat.
“Hey sweetie… Do you remember me? We’ve come to help you… well we think we might be able to … um … that is… we’ll try but um … Ohhh!!” Spike pushed her onto her back and continued to lick her with earnest with a large rough tongue, until the older wiccan was giggling helplessly and one of the handlers felt it necessary to step in to assist before matters got out of hand.
Willow was rather sad to see the two tigers, her former friends, comply instantly. They fell into heel at their trainers’ side and dropped to a down position shortly after a second quiet instruction. She was somewhat encouraged that they were rewarded with a tidbit of meat for their good behavior, then shook herself. If this was truly Xander and Spike… they had lived like this for close to nineteen months. Giles might be right. It might be impossible to rehabilitate them even if they did come back.
That evening in their hotel, Willow sobbed into Giles’ arms, the older man stalling his own tears as he comforted the distraught witch.
“I tried to reach them Giles… I could feel [hic] him… them… both of them… but they’re [hic] not really there… their human form is just not there! But um [sob.. heavy sigh] um they seem to be happy, how can [hic] they be happy Giles … how?”
“I think it’s safe to say they are living rather a privileged life as far as animals in captivity or… ah…‘pets’ go… and it has been some time. Eventually one must give in to the natural instinct and urges of one’s body I would imagine.”
“So we were too late… We’re too late to save them?”
“I’m not sure we can assume that, but it seems to be the case at this stage.” Giles tightened his arm around the former Scoobie while using the other hand to pull off his glasses and pinch the bridge of his nose before he continued. “It, ahh, it seems the Sheikh would like us to find them ‘accommodation’ in London while the boy is at school.”
Willow’s head shot up, “What?”
“Yes, well… it seems Ahmil, the son, is to attend Eton this year and refuses to go without his pets. Of course it is a ridiculous notion but..”
“Well of course we will … we have to Giles! We have to! Maybe they’ll come back to us… you know, if they could stay with us… And then we’ll have time to find the warlock and reverse the spell… maybe… and anyway…”
Giles had already said yes but felt it necessary to caution his dear friend, “My dear, have you even thought this through?! Taking two tigers back with us is not like adopting a corgi from the local pound! We need space for them to run and appropriate training. Ahmil is expecting us to care for then… and there is every likelihood that they will still return to Dubai when the boy does at the end of his studies... so there will be quarantine issues…”
Giles had no time to finish, Willow rounded on him, her tear streaked face resolute. “We do it… And if that’s all we can ever do for them, then we at least do that! Giles… it’s Xander and Spike… we have to try! They’ll be back with us… at least they’ll have that.”
Giles felt a headache coming on. He acquiesced, “We will need the coven to make appropriate arrangements I believe. The watcher’s council simply does not have the appropriate land to accommodate their needs. Leave it to me.”
Two Squared: 4