Two Squared: 5
Willow was standing at the Perspex watching the two tigers sparring. The ferocious growls and innate power being exerted by the two big cats was quite fearsome. And yet Willow shed a tear as she watched.
The gentle voice of her mentor broke her reverie, “Have you ever considered that perhaps they are happy?”
“How can they be Giles? Without their family… well OK, not that particularly, but not being human… being pets! Giles! That must be awful!”
“Really? Do you truly believe that, watching them now? I realize that they are confined, but then aren’t we also in some fashion? I wonder if their sense of belonging, of being cared for, is not something we all crave…”
Willow turned to stare at the older man, her mentor, a man she thought she knew, and saw a sense of longing, of empathy with the two powerful cats who were enjoying a wrestle in their day enclosure.
“Giles, you can’t be serious?! They’re… pets! They can’t possibly be happy with that!”
“Your wiccan animal expert was thrown out of their minds, yes?”
“And after that they were very down and seemed listless for a day. But now after a good sleep and a feed they seem to have recovered their spirits, would you not agree?”
“My dear lady, it does seem apparent that their minds have assimilated with their new forms completely. To attempt to pull that away now will destroy them both. Willow, even if we can bring them back it is very likely to break them… they no longer function as humans now… they may well need special care for the rest of their lives… or staking as the case may be!”
“No!!! Giles! But we have to… it was our fault! And now they’re…” Tears were streaming down the wiccan’s cheeks.
Giles hugged her to him and spoke into her hair, “My dear Willow, inadvertently, I think we may have given them a true sense of belonging. They have now grown up as tigers, it is obvious from the reports. They were taken at the apparent age of six weeks old, so in an odd sort of a way, have known nothing else. The fact that they seem to understand English and still have some human or vampire recollections is merely a bonus.
“Perhaps we should be approaching this another way? Spike obviously still feels your magic, and they are both extremely fast and deadly. Perhaps we can contact them in a different fashion by having them work for the coven? That way the tie would be strengthened but the need to return to human form not an imperative.”
“No!! We can’t give up!”
“Willow, it may not be up to us… Let us make the best of it for now… hmmm? They may one day choose to return to their original forms but for now… just for now… don’t they deserve a little peace and stability? If we continue to include them, without putting the pressure on, then they may indeed seek the change. And if not… so be it.”
Willow was sobbing into Giles’ chest but nodded her agreement. It was a matter of respect and love.
Spike was pacing. Umbhala had not been for two days and the tiger craved some real exercise … Why wasn’t their trainer there? He was always there! In the end the tiger stalked away from the door and chose to taunt his partner instead. It swiftly turned into a viscous fight, the snarls and threatening growls heard all over the coven.
He wasn’t about to kill Xander but they both knew, hurting was very much on the agenda. Xander was not the helpless Scoobie of old, but a predator in his own right. The tussle was swift, furious and very, very serious in its intent. They finished, each with injuries, but all superficial, and somehow they were both satisfied…. Some inner need had been sated, and their male hormones given free reign.
Umbhala was ill with influenza, and simply could not make it to work for four days. The fact that the coven members seemed not to think it was important to give the large charges some exercise appalled him when he returned at the end of the week to observe deep scratches and bite marks that the two had inflicted on each other in their boredom.
He appealed to Giles, he needed backup, a second handler, if only to prevent injuries to the tigers if they were left without sufficient exercise. Giles had no idea who might be available so started ‘at home’. Dawn had been studying veterinary science at the University of London. She had a degree in languages but had found the job opportunities, in the end, really did not appeal.
She had two more years to go but was thrilled by the idea of working with big game animals (Giles yet to tell her who, not just what, she would be dealing with). She arrived the following day on the train.
Giles collected her in the ancient Volvo station wagon (aka ‘Rolls Cnardley – ie… rolls down ‘ills and c’nardly get up ‘em’) She chatted cheerfully all the way to the coven headquarters and though Giles had every intention of ‘getting a word in’ it was simply impossible. He made many encouraging ‘hmmm’ sounds and cheerful “Ahhh yes” s but really was left with little leeway.
As the car crunched up the drive and pulled to a stop, Giles finally took control of the conversation. “Dawn you are here for a purpose.”
“Oh I totally get that and thanks *so* much! Everyone at College is wicked jealous! I am *so* looking forward to working with…”
She was cut off.
“Dawn the cats you will be working with ... the tigers… are Spike and Xander… We lost them over two years ago… There was a spell. They seem happy in their new form but need certain… things provided for them. Their young master is currently at Eton, and visits every fortnight…. They’ve only been with us for around four months, previous to that they were in Dubai. We were.. um… rather caught out in the last month when their handler fell ill. Hence my call of course.” Giles paused.
Dawn was sitting wide eyed, attempting to take in the information… “So this is…?”
“They are as they are, Dawn. Whether they remember you or understand what we are saying any more is rather a mute point … I’m sorry… but if I may reassure you… they seem happy, and they are… beautiful creatures, and very well cared for as you will soon see.”
Giles left Dawn’s baggage in the car and led her directly to the enclosure at the rear of the establishment.
Spike sniffed the air and gave a whimper, Xander was immediately at his side licking and comforting, unsure of the cause of the distress and receiving too few clues from the link. Then he caught the scent and knew. Spike collapsed into a down position his blue eyes bright with emotion. Xander followed him down, licking, purring, placating. Terrible images of death and mayhem, and a tower kept flooding the link but with the replying love and devotion, and forgiveness and admiration… Spike eventually calmed. So much so that as a stunningly attractive, tall female human in her early twenties, entered their enclosure, they both responded with respectful confidence.
Spike knew the scent… *Dawn* *Niblet* *Dawn* *Keep safe* *Safe*. His mate quickly picked up on the theme.
Dawn hardly had time to push the door of their enclosure open and step inside, when she was amazed as a fully grown white tiger licked her then fell to a full down position at her feet, his golden partner following suit. Then the two large cats simply waited, paws almost touching her.
She sat down between them and stroked them both over their forehead and between the ears. Spike was a little ticklish there as Xander well knew, and Dawn giggled as his left ear twitched each time her hand made a pass through the soft fur. They looked and felt so powerful yet the fur was plush and silky, and as the two started to purr in a low rumbling duet, she did what the wiccan communicators could not.
“Hey… Spike, Xan… I’ve missed you guys so much… and now look at you… You’ve gone and got all gorgeous cat on me,” Her rhythmic stroking was mesmerizing and Spike lifted his huge head to rest it on her lap as she continued.
Xander was almost asleep with her petting. He had a habit of not listening to humans when they spoke any more, something he had picked up in Dubai… not speaking Arabic was part of it, though he did understand all his commands and listened whenever Ahmil spoke. The way their young master said “Fahir” with such adoration melted Xander’s soft heart every time. Unless Ahmil spoke English however (which he had done quite often in preparation for school), all Xander heard was something akin to “Blaahhh blaaahhh blahhh Fahir blahhh blahh”. He had learned simply to go with the emotions and listen for the key words he knew. Spike did the rest. Often these days his partner simply sent him mind pictures and feelings regards what was being spoken about, rather than bothering with words.
He tried to listen to Dawn, but in the end simply drifted off and let Spike do the concentrating.
Spike was attentive and blinked up at Dawn with a blue gaze so like his adoring looks of old that Dawn leaned down and kissed the beautiful beast. She began to tell him at length about Italy and starting again in London, and all the shows she had been to, and various boyfriends (though it seemed they were all rather short term). She wondered whether he really understood her, until she mentioned Buffy and the Immortal and was privy to a truly frightening snarl.
“OK OK I get it! No mentioning of the big sister or the boyfriend!… Anyway… he’s not *that* perfect! You know he has to have his eyebrows waxed every month… Hello mono-brow otherwise and can I just say Eewww! I’ll bet he has back hair too!”
Spike relaxed, snorted, and Dawn could have sworn he grinned. She began stroking him again and he resumed his background purr to her commentary.
“Anyways, Giles was telling me about you know this… thing… with you guys. He said Willow’s been trying to reverse the spell but…”
Spike started growling again. Bloody meddling witch. He had had two plus years of lazy days in the sun and hunting and good food and exclusive time with his partner and a loving master… and… why would somebody want to change that now? He had recollections from before, of hunger and of need and of hurt, and before that of constant darkness and love and the hunt, but … and other even more ancient memories of being weak and laughed at. Why would anyone want to do that to him … not now!?
Spike pulled away from the gentle touch, stood and began to pace their sleeping quarters growling, but eventually picked up on Dawn’s distress and returned to her as she spoke placating him. “Oh sweetie, I don’t think they’re right necessarily, but I need to know you’re happy. Are you happy?”
To answer her, he simply flopped down behind his partner, nudged her hand away and began licking and caressing his fellow tiger’s ears and neck. He gave Dawn a cheeky look and bit the closest ear, evoking a growl as the golden cat roused suddenly and in a split second had rolled and was wrestling his white companion. Dawn scrambled out of the way and couldn’t help but grin as the two proceeded to play fight.
Eventually she followed them into the bigger enclosure and was ensconced against the wall simply admiring them. It seemed that they had forgotten about her as they wrestled, played tug of war, chased each other at lightening speed and plunged head long into the slightly warmed water. Spike eventually emerged shook himself liberally at the water’s edge and returned still dripping to flop down at her feet.
Dawn squatted down and put her hand under the lethal jaw, “I get it honey… but would you like to talk some more sometime… you know just visit as friends?” Her answer was a vigorous licking of her hand and her clothes made wet by Spike’s fur and he brushed against her.
She hadn’t realized. It was two hours since she entered the enclosure. Giles welcomed her with a slightly rueful smile.
“It’s true Giles… They really seem… content… And they are so cool together… I mean… Wow!”
Dawn visited every day. She was attentive and meticulous, and to Umbhala’s delight, more than happy to have him tutor her, even though his formal qualifications were limited. He grew to like and trust the young woman, and was amazed at the rapport she had with the two tigers. By the end of the week he let Giles know, the tigers would be in safe hands were Dawn to be left in charge. Giles simply grinned knowingly.
Ahmil arrived a week later, this time he brought friends from school.
Two Squared: 6