Two Squared: 6
Spike woke on the afternoon of Ahmil’s visit, to the sound of Umbhala opening their enclosure. It was time for their run after a lazy morning being groomed and chatted to by Dawn. Over the last five days, Spike had come up with a few responsive gestures and growls that left her convinced that he understood her. And she was greatly encouraged in the last two days as Xander too, had begun to apparently take notice of what she was saying, though he still seemed to get bored easily, and was inclined to wander off after a few minutes.
She talked about everything and nothing, and earlier on the day of Ahmil’s arrival, offered to speak to Spike in Italian. For her suggestion she received a hearty licking and spent the rest of the morning chatting away jovially in the language she had so enthusiastically studied. She described where her favorite places in Rome were and the school there, and the boys, and the fashion, and the food, and the wine. And Spike reveled in all of it… he knew the language and understood her easily, but had no clear recollection why exactly. Some flashes of old memories of Rome came as she described various landmarks, and for some reason he kept getting a resounding urge to hunt… and flashes of hunting… humans… but that didn’t seem right. In the end it was a little too confusing, so he focused back the strokes of her brush over his soft fur and let the lilting language of Venice wash over him. Eventually she had taken her leave and promised to visit again after the weekend.
They waited impatiently for Umbhala to hook on their leads then headed out of the enclosure and into the chill of the evening.
It was five months since their arrival and the winter air was proving a challenge. The temperature was allowed to drop in their enclosure though the sleeping quarters and the pool were still kept warm. Both tigers had developed thicker coats as a natural response to the season and consequently were looking even more ‘filled out’.
They walked quietly behind their handler, but all paused as a London taxi pulled into the driveway and four overexcited fourteen year old boys piled out. Umbhala waited for the boys to be greeted and enter the coven’s headquarters before leading his charges around to the stables where the quad bike and usual bags awaited.
Rhianon welcomed Ahmil and his friends graciously. At the special request of Ahmil and the Sheikh, she had agreed that the coven would host the boys. The majority of the wiccans were on a retreat that weekend, so there was plenty of room. Ahmil explained to his friends that the residence was a ‘health spa’ during the week… hence the candles, semi precious stones and odd smells of incense and oils.
One of the young lads, a perky young fellow with flaming red hair piped up that his ma-ma *always* attended *her* spa in the south of France and offered that, “The mud there is far superior.” Rhianon simply smiled, made no comment and led them to their rooms for the evening.
The boys were fed afternoon tea then raced outside to play a game of two-on-two rugby. Despite his wish to stay with his friends, Ahmil was desperate to see the tigers. Distracted by his thoughts he was tackled hard and thrown to the ground. His teammate was less than impressed “C’mon ‘Checkers’!!!! Catch the bloody ball!”
The nickname had come from pictures of his father Sheikh Hamdan that the boys had downloaded. His father’s traditional head dress was apparently reminiscent of a checker board, so naturally... At least he was somewhat relieved that his earlier nicknames of ‘Towelboy’ and ‘Ali Baba’ had disappeared.
“Sorry Fitch, just got distracted…” The ball was thrown hard at his stomach in disgust. He managed not to flinch as he caught the incoming missile. But he was watching his magnificent pets, bigger and stronger than ever, racing behind the quad bike in the chill of late afternoon, their breath steaming, giving them the appearance of two mythical creatures breathing fire.
Given the mood of his friends he resolved to visit them later at night when the others were watching a movie or playing computer games on their laptops.
So at around nine that night the lad stole down to the sleeping quarters of his Pets, and in the blue light that signaled night time lighting, he quietly opened the door and whispered “Bahir? Fadi?”
The two tigers recognized their master instantly and padded over to nudge him and lick his hands. He fell to his knees and allowed the two to wash his face with rough tongues and flop down, a head on each thigh, simply content that their young master was home.
He talked to them of school. He was not all that happy. Spike listened, the story sounded oddly familiar He had nice enough teachers and was doing extremely well in his studies but longed to feel like he ‘fitted’. He confided in his two feline companions that his father had had a hand in this weekend visitation. Arranging the same with certain business associates to make sure their sons accepted his invitation. Somehow, though they seemed to be having an 'OK time', when he found out why they all agreed so readily, he felt cheated.
Spike turned enough to lick the young master rhythmically until the youth finally fell into a light sleep.
Umbhala did his last check on the enclosure around 10pm and was a little surprised to see Ahmil snoozing, his head resting on the yellow tiger’s neck and hand resting on the shoulder of his white friend while the tiger continued to stroking his friend gently across the shoulders with a hot tongue.
Spike ceased and stiffened a little as he saw his handler enter, but Umbhala put his hands out, palms up, to placate his charge, then silently moved to lift the sleeping boy from his position in the pen then carried him to bed. Spike snuggled against his golden companion and the both slept.
The following day the boys were out and about in the early afternoon, after a shopping adventure to the local village and a hearty lunch at the coven. They hung on the fence at the end of the out paddock watching the tigers’ work out.
Sebastian a dark headed boy with almost permanent sneer, snorted after seeing the tigers take off after the bike bait, “My cat does that every day with cook’s tea towel, I’ve seen him. What’s so special about this Checkers? You know apart from granted they are a little bigger.”
“Oh um I just thought … you know … just it’s um… I like watching them. It’s the closest thing to hunting back home. We go to a game park you know and…” Ahmil’s tone dropped as he said the last bit and he looked rather too hopefully at his ‘school chums’. They seemed rather unimpressed.
“Yes well it’s all very amusing Checkers, but you should come on a *real* hunt. You know duck or grouse shooting… You know *with a rifle*. Or even fox hunting. Papa says I’m allowed to ride with them as soon as I’m fifteen, because they have drinks at the start you know. And papa says the damned animal righters aren’t going to stop it on our estate … ever!”
The other boys looked impressed with Seb’s diatribe. Ahmil smiled weakly and simply wished he could take his tigers and go home. *All* the way home. He wondered if he could speak to his father or one of his uncles and appeal for the same, but dismissed the notion as soon as it was formed, he had a duty to carry out for the honor and future of the family. He slumped over the railings of the gate at which they were standing and stared longingly at his pets romping joyfully behind Umbhala’s bike. How much easier it must be to be them… but then, he mused, they knew no different. They always looked so… content.
Umbhala saw the young master at the gate and drove up, Bahir and Fadi saw Ahmil immediately and stood on their hind legs, huge front paws hanging over the straining gate, eager for a pat. They were not disappointed.
Spike sensed Ahmil’s upset and made an extra point of licking his master’s hand and face, Xander followed suit, receiving a loving ‘rough around the ears’ and whispered ‘Love you’ to each in turn.
Spike pricked his ears as he heard “Fitch” comment to another boy that “They’re all tame, just look at that! Bet you could saddle it up and ride it… they are Seb … they’re just big pussy cats! ‘Dangerous hunters’ my ass … Queen’s got corgis more vicious I’ll wager”
As he licked, Spike was also watching the ‘playmates’. He dropped almost silently and sat beside the quad bike, eying the arrogant young boys who were not really friends to his lovely Ahmil. He knew the type, ancient human memories of being used and ridiculed, the endless snide remarks and hurt… a lot of hurt… all came back in vivid flashes - the alienation and the pain of trying to fit in, and no hope in achieving it. Xander, also clued into the problem, and empathized. He growled a low almost subsonic warning.
Spike nudged him a little to calm his friend. Were he to be ordered, he would happily have torn out the throats of the three who seemed to take such pleasure in insulting the big hearted Ahmil. He remembered tearing out throats of just such lads before, strangely satisfying memories. But he stayed passive and nudged his companion who’s growls were almost becoming a threat. Xander ceased and both dropped at their handler’s feet still panting slightly from their exercise.
Ahmil stood his arms over the gate for another minute or two, looking longingly before bidding the two and Umbhala farewell, and rejoining the other three boys who were now half way down the drive, throwing bits of stick at each other.
The four wandered behind the enclosure to watch Umbhala put the tigers to bed. Ahmil was not all that happy to show his friends… somehow these were private family moments for him. Nevertheless… he felt it only fair as they were wandering past. The young owner wandered into the rear food preparation area, while the tigers settled together, licking and caressing each other, their fondness for the other obvious even to the most oblivious of observers.
Seb sniggered out loud, “Hey check it out… Checker’s tigers are gay… how bizarre is that… never thought you could get a big cat who’s into the pink side of life!”
Fitch countered, “They’re all into it you wally!”
“Since my *brother* who was in Africa on safari this year said he saw some male lions licking each other!”
“I mean *licking*!”
“Yeah well everyone knows they do that.”
“Oh leave it out!”
The third member of the party of friends had remained quiet, but saw his opportunity to ingratiate himself with the ever popular Seb and Fitch combination. “Don’t you think they look pretty tame? I mean… I dare you to touch one… in the cage… I mean if Ahmil can then… well…”
Fitch answered immediately, “Yeah!”
Seb was a little less enthusiastic, “We might need to take in some meat or something… like with Papa’s hound, you know as a friendly gesture.”
“OK done, we wait for his Sheikhness to fall asleep then we all meet here yeah?”
Spike heard everything, and understood enough.
The three took off for the enclosure as soon as Ahmil was asleep.
Spike had feigned illness that evening, deliberately regurgitating his meal and lying listlessly in the sleeping quarters. Umbhala was worried. He rang his wife and then Dawn, the former to apologize that he would be in after midnight, and the latter that he needed her advice and backup as soon as possible.
Spike seemed to settle by around nine, Umbhala threw down a thin mat and Nepal sleeping bag in the food preparation area and set his mobile phone alarm for two hours. He placed it beside his ear and quickly succumbed to his own worry and exhaustion.
Spike pricked his ears as did Xander, as the three lads approached and ‘stealthily’ unlatched the door. The two tigers were touching, there was no need for any other communication.
“Shhhhh what… shit we’re inside isn’t that enough!” Spike heard Fitch’s strained whisper and smelt fear. He decided to play it up.
The night light in the enclosure gave enough illumination to make out most things in the space. Spike rolled onto his back against Xander, huge paws in the air and white belly complete with all the ‘right male parts’ exposed. He gave a theatrical grunt, and was pleased as he distinctly smelt fear now rolling off all three. Flashback’s to other ruses when he was human (? … no vampire!) were drifting in.
Xander heard them too, and through their link understood the strategy. Basic ambush.
The boys approached, about as stealthily as an entire herd of wildebeest. The tigers simply waited.
The boys’ plan was very unclear to any of them. They had stolen a small tray of beef mince from the kitchen and each sported two handfuls one for ‘throwing’ and one for… well, they weren’t quite sure.
Xander began to play to the audience too. Perfectly awake, he remained down and snorted (causing all the boys to pause and heart rates to escalate) then licked his lips, then apparently began to relax again.
A loud growl from Spike precipitated the rest of the events of that night.
Everything seemed to happen in a blur. In the space of seconds, the meat was thrown *at* the two big cats by all three of the boys (rather than offered as had been their plan!) as they ran for the door. But the cats moved with lightening speed, and as his two compatriots were brought down by *clawless* huge paws in less than a second, Seb made it to the now automatically locking door, tugged frantically and began screaming for help. He looked back to see his two companions as they whimpered under the bellies of two formidable killers.
Both Spike and Xander stood, four paws either side of the ‘brave friends’ of their master, while the lads sobbed in fear.
To make a point while they waited for Umhala and Ahmil to arrive, Spike nuzzled his captive ‘Fitch’ just enough, very careful to let his saliva drop onto the exposed neck of the terrified boy, and utterly gratified to smell the evidence of the lad soiling himself.
They both expected the order, “Come!”
He and Xander elegantly moved from their captives and dropped into a down position by their handler’s feet. Umbhala waited for a few minutes until the crunching of several sets of boots was apparent.
Dawn *and* Giles had arrived not a half hour before and were simply taking tea before retiring when the ruckus at the enclosure erupted. Dawn thought it prudent to alert Ahmil also. Mistress Rhianon accompanied them of course.
The four now stood rather stunned by the scene before them.
Giles spoke first, “What happened here?!!”
In answer the white tiger, with his handler’s tacit permission wandered casually back into the enclosure, where three near catatonic small boys now crouched in various positions whimpering. He gently picked up a large nob of ground beef and carried it to his master’s feet where he dropped it like a canine retriever then sat back down.
The boys left on Sunday afternoon, after Ahmil had spent the entire day with his beloved two pets, while his ‘friends’ were quietly counseled for shock, and advised re ‘appropriate behavior toward fellow creatures’ for their own future reference.
The tigers rubbed against the boy, purred, whimpered a little, then finally licked him all over. But he still had to leave.
Dawn dropped by before she too departed until the following morning.
“That was a good thing you did.”
Spike’s blue eyes looked quizzical.
“Ahmil won’t have too much more trouble this year, I shouldn’t think. I mean those guys! Gahhh. But hey when I’m back… totally with the slayage… Giles said … so …. Um Yay!!” Her excitement was infectious. She gave each of the tigers an enthusiastic hug,
Spike knew their lovely Dawn would be away for nearly three weeks on a trip back to Rome. He would miss her dearly. They would both miss her.
Two Squared: 7