Two Squared: 7
It was the sixth month of their stay at the coven. Umbhala had the weekend off and Dawn was in the last week of her trip to Rome after midterms. It didn’t seem like a problem. The coven had guaranteed that their gentle driver/gardener John, would give the tigers a daily run anytime the others were away. John had deputized for Umbhala on a few occasions and the big cats knew and liked him. He was both comfortable and confident with them, and... was a trainee watcher.
He had often admired the two as they play hunted behind the bike, and was looking forward to being given the responsibility of exercising such beautiful beasts. But after overhearing a conversation between Willow and Dawn was rather taken aback, and requested a meeting with the head of their order, Mr Giles.
The ensuing discussion was frank and to the point, Giles confirming the original identity of the two felines and their ‘white hat’ history. Giles was careful to point out Spike’s ensouled status and his various heroic acts… along with his current *living* state.
John was still stunned. How many times had he, the apprentice Watcher and various trainee slayers, wandered into dangerous situations, yet here were two seasoned warriors condemned to live as big cats…
The next time he entered the cage with Umbhala he made a special effort to be both affectionate and respectful, not as prey to predator, but as student to mentor. Spike noted the difference and responded by catching the young man’s in the eyes for a moment and holding the stare. In that moment John understood that all he had been told was true.
It was John who suggested it, and Willow and Giles quickly agreed. After their regular handler's return it was agreed.
Within the month the two tigers found themselves in the rear of the coven Land Rover to do a patrol of the neighboring town’s cemeteries. Both tigers had their leads removed, and walked obediently beside Umbhala.
For his part, the lovely trainer had slowly come to realize the true purpose of the coven and respected it. Despite his own Muslim beliefs, he also had a strong sense of the ‘other’. His great grandfather had been a respected witch doctor, and from a very young child they had been told of the spirit world and knew first hand of death. Giles quietly spoke to Umbhala of their intention to use the tigers to hunt the ‘undead’, the old watcher careful to ask the handler’s opinion and give him many opportunities to withdraw both he and his charges. Rather to Giles’ surprise there was no hesitation. And Umbhala returned to his beautiful tigers to announce that they were all ‘going out’.
It was like hunting back in Dubai, but also tugged on older memories. They were walking calmly either side of Umbhala, the three well in front of the others. Giles Willow John and a two trainee Slayers. They could both smell the relative fear of the two trainee Slayers behind them, and also picked up the scents of disturbed earth and the decay of the cemetery. Satisfied they were in an open enough position for the tigers to hunt. Umbhala did as he had in Dubai, he ordered them to drop. Their gem encrusted collars glinted in the moonlight, as they looked to their handler expectantly.
Willow moved forward and knelt in front of her friends. “OK sweeties… um it’s um… we’re, well as you can see obviously! In a cemetery, and we’re um… looking for vampires and um they’re doing really bad things… And … Say do you remember vampires? You know all GRRRR!” Xander growled back far more fiercely. Willow was a little startled but managed to grin and simply say, “Oh hmmm I take that as a yes then… So I guess you’ll know how to umm deal with them… ummm good then.” She hurriedly stepped back but not before catching Spike’s eye and the inevitable ‘well duhhh’ look.
The others retreated a little way and Umbhala moved away from Xander and Spike a little so he appeared to be standing alone.
A fledge broke from the rear of the cemetery, running headlong toward what he thought was an easy human target. Umbhala’s simple command “Hunt” was all that was needed. The tigers took off into the darkness. The human audience was stunned by the swiftness and savagery. The two big cats flanked their prey and in the blink of an eye Xander had lunged for and neatly torn out the fledge’s neck while Spike finished the job by severing the spine thereby separating the head from the body. Dust ensued.
It would be five dusted fledge’s later before the far older Sire of the ‘dearly dusted’ finally emerged. He was fast, but the tigers were faster. And this time the two Slayers took part, the big cats knocked the vampire onto his back. He managed to throw Xander off, the tiger landing painfully against a gravestone. But was not powerful enough to dislodge Spike, nor to avoid the stake through the heart from one of the young Slayers.
Before the dust had even begun to settle, Spike was at Xander’s side. The other tiger had a little blood oozing from split skin and was obviously bruised, but the message Spike received through the link was simply one of love, pride and excitement. Spike dropped and systematically licked the injured area until Umbhala arrived to fuss over his bleeding charge. After a good half hour, Umbhala was satisfied that Xander was well enough to move, so clipped on their leads and walked them slowly from the graveyard, and with Giles and John’s assistance, helped the wounded animal into the rear of the vehicle. Xander settled with a pained groan but began to purr as his partner proceeded to lick and caress him all over.
It was to be the first of many such excursions, the two tigers accompanying the trainee Slayers in the area at least three nights a week from that day on.
Ahmil was to spend two and a half weeks of his summer vacation at the coven having begged his father for permission. The Sheikh wanted him back in Dubai but agreed reluctantly. Ahmil would take over the care of the tigers (with assistance from John at the coven) while Umbhala and his family flew home for a two week holiday, then it would be Ahmil’s turn. It all seemed easy enough, but the Sheikh had begun to worry that his son was more comfortable with two tigers than with his school mates. He should have been spending time with his ‘chum’s’ if he wasn’t coming home.
Ahmil was literally bouncing as he entered the enclosure on the first day of his holidays with them. Umbhala had given him permission to ride the quad bike for the training runs and Willow had agreed that he could ‘patrol’ with them in a few days time.
The tigers thrived on Ahmil’s attention. The boy was utterly devoted, spending endless hours throwing ‘targets’ for them to pounce on, grooming them, playing with the hose (cutting off the flow then sending out spurts of water to be caught, even on the ‘fly’ as they leapt into the pool from a strategically placed rock.
In the second week Ahmil had Umbhala and John help him hang a ‘Tarzan rope’ from the main over structure of their enclosure. It was over four inches thick and was the grade of rope used to more big ships, perfect for a slow heavy swing and the embedding of claws as tigers launched themselves at the ‘target’. Inevitably it all ended in the water, but no one minded.
Ahmil rode the quad bike with the tigers attached around the property three or four times each afternoon, though it was still John (in Umbhala’s absence) who gave them the hunting practice.
When it finally came to patrolling, there was some trepidation in taking the young man with them. Happily the season was quiet, and the only ‘kills’ were out of sight of their young master. Happily Ahmil seemed quite taken with one of the young slayers Kristy, buxom and ‘forward’, she was funny and attentive (Willow would have argued ‘flirtatious’!), and Ahmil seemed to spend an awful lot of time on these excursions, with his small backpack (containing water and sweeties for himself, and snacks for the tigers) positioned firmly on his lap willing his erection to subside before they had to get out of the four wheel drive.
Ahmil’s time was over far too quickly, though he departed having received a handshake from Giles, a *kiss* from Kristy and a hug from both Dawn and Willow. His determination to study zoology and veterinary science was confirmed, even if it *did* have to be a double degree with commerce to satisfy his father!
After the excitement of Ahmil’s visit, the coven settled again. But it was not a restful period for Willow. The tigers would be four at Christmas… and Willow was more and more distressed that they were no closer to switching the two back.
Willow was still convinced that Spike and Xander could be turned back if they could track down the Warlock, who apparently disappeared into the ether after each theft/missing person. Giles suggested wryly that that could in fact be perfectly accurate. Dawn worried that the boys did seem rather happy and relaxed, and was of the same opinion as Giles, If they were fully integrated then a swift switch back to human form could prove devastating.
So Willow took a different tack. She had been speaking to witches who specialized in astral projection to see if they could make closer contact with the vampire and ex Scoobie … Giles eventually capitulated and agreed that with the coven’s assistance, Willow would meditate, take astral form and speak directly to her old friends.
Waiting until the tigers were asleep that evening, Willow lay on a raffia mat, relaxed and meditating deeply, while six of her fellow wiccans sat cross legged chanting.
Another group of witches were at the tiger enclosure chanting softly calling the tigers’ spirits to join Willow.
Willow’s astral body floated until she was sitting in front of the tigers. She expected the two to emerge and their human forms to sit likewise, but as she called to them and they emerged it was a far different scenario. Spike had the bare head and shoulders and arms of a human but the rest was tiger, while Xander’s arm finished in the paws of his tiger form, but the shoulders and face were all original Scoobie. Their astral bodies a true representation of them as they were now.
Her concentration almost broke as the emotion of seeing the faces of her old friends after so long threatened to take her. But Rhianon was with her body and began to quietly massage and stroke her and her physical self calmed, allowing Willow to continue.
Both tigers were rather surprised to find themselves in such an odd state. They were still totally connected to their tiger forms but now had been called out, and hardly recognized their former faces, certainly not able to decide what to do with their arms! Neither could think of anything to say, so just stared rather bemused at Willow.
“Um Hi I just… I’ll start and it… I … oh Xan! Spike! It’s so good to see you again… the real you I mean… the real you… I’m so sorry … so sorry.”
For Xander it was new. Her words were in his head like Spike’s had always been, and he found himself able to reply. “I’ve been here with you for a year Will, always here… every day… I see you nearly every day…”
He was cut off “But you’re not Xan… you’re not you! I mean… It’s the tiger you and that’s really lovely on one level… but we’re still trying so hard to find the reversal… and don’t you miss?...”
“I love my life Will, I know you don’t ‘get that’ but I really do…”
Willow almost broke the experience again, her anxiety increasing with tenfold, “But you *can’t*, You’re a *pet* and not even human… how can you want that? How can you??’
Spike snarled. It was the growl of a fully grown male tiger not a vampire. “We have no choice you stupid bint, never did! Whatever mojo the old bloke did on us to have this…” He looked down and his arms morphed into the front legs of his tiger form, “ It’s who we are now. We have grown up in this form… three and a bit years… and are bloody grateful!
“We’ve got a nice home and each other. Seems as though someone loves us… or even a few more than one…. got regular food, exercise and a nice place to live… The young master is a right softy... and we’re hunting properly again… And sorry… witch… but now we’re happy… hard to… but good life and together and … happy… don’t mess with it, don’t… Please!” As he finished his form became completely tiger.
Xander had been silent as Spike spoke. He was slipping into full tiger form as he felt his partner’s apparent distress.
Willow watched in horror as her long time friend slipped “Xan!”
Xander was hardly speaking in human terms but managed to say in a near subsonic growl and more in word pictures than English, “Sorry… Love us…. friend… talk again friend, friend… Me happy… Spike… happy… mate… Love, Love.”
The images dissipated and Willow returned to her own body. She spoke to Rhianon at length afterwards. The message was clear, but she still needed to talk.
“I just… How *can* they enjoy their lives now!?”
“Perhaps this is their second chance together?”
“But as *animals* that’s ridiculous… It… It *can’t* have been Xander… it must have been the cat talking! I mean…”
“I wonder if you search your heart, which one of us would not like to start again as youngsters. To belong, to be cherished, pampered and adored. Dawn speaks to them as though they were their former selves every other day; Umbhala exercises them; they hunt, are fed, and housed, in warmth and comfort; their passion for the white hat agenda is being fulfilled.
"Why do you think they would want to return Mistress Willow? A vampire with a soul, who is the last of his lineage with no Sire and no place to go? A man who has no family, whose entire history was obliterated in a single event, wounded and drifting … his only solace the vampire, therefore rejected by human and demon society – be it for his gay or mixed relationship tendencies!
They were living in a strange little domestic situation, trying to ‘do the human thing’… and how long would that have lasted? Willow, my dear, no world is perfect… but perhaps they have just been given the second chance they secretly yearned for?”
Willow was now kneeling and had tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Willow, dear heart, please! Be happy for them, and let us make their time on this plane joyful! They are magnificent and noble and sustain their ‘white hat’ sensibilities. Let’s be happy for them and make their time with us joyous!”
“Oh…[hic] … yeah umm… [hic] that would be um…[hic] that’s what I want… Oh Rhianon!!!” Willow gave in to her grief and buried her face in the other wiccan’s ample bosom, strong arms welcomed and embraced her and Willow finally understood.
Rhianon nodded as the other wiccans excused themselves. She mouthed ‘thankyou’ to all and continued to comfort her sister witch.
Spike roused after the odd dream and spotted the strange 'tangle of witches’ on the floor of the observation room. He rose and wandered over. Rhianon reached out as his gaze fell her way. Spike realized what had occurred and sent “Thank you” through the connection. He received “Welcome” then all went quiet.
He returned to Xander, snuggling down to snooze the rest of the night away while Rhianon stood and lifted Willow to standing, then guided the not quite conscious wiccan back to the house.
Two Squared: 8