Two Squared: 13
Willow licked over her dear friends’ ears in turn. They had been listless and depressed for nearly two weeks, though had remained loyal to their new family. Spike had made a particular point of spending time with his son Nadir who was still grief stricken. It was as much to do with Ahmir and Umbhala’s absence as his siblings’ departure.
By week three Nadir’s condition was beginning to falter and his refusal to eat had become a concern. His little namesake (Ahmir had named Willow’s littlest fellow Nadir II) nuzzled him and became more and more distressed as his older cousin slowly lost weight and became less responsive.
Dawn took to brushing Nadir daily. She hoped that by speaking gently, and rhythmically stroking the slender form with the horsehair brush so favored by the young master, there would be some comfort. But she worried as ribs and hip bones become more and more prominent.
A concerned Dawn thanked his father as Spike sat with his son, caressing and cajoling him until he ate at least a little of the meat Dawn patiently attempted to feed him. It was hoped that Ahmir’s return would lift Nadir’s spirits… and those of his little protégé, the younger tiger seemed to have also fallen into a funk as his older cousin pined.
By the end of week three after the departure, Willow paced the enclosure growling with frustration. She needed Dawn or one of the handlers. Despite her best efforts, the smallest of her brood, her lovely Nadir II, had ceased feeding, and was losing weight fast. For the past twenty four hours he had been lethargic and disinclined to play at all.
Dawn eventually arrived, placating a near frantic Willow and intervened. The young vet injected a sedative, vitamins and squeezed water and electrolytes into an unwilling mouth. Yet after three days she was still essentially helpless as the young one began to falter and seemed determined to follow his cousin into oblivion.
Dawn woke in the middle of the night on the fourth day. She realized the problem, the connection and… the solution for both the lovely Nadirs.
The young wiccan made her way down to the enclosure. Three adult tigers roused the instant the door of the enclosure clicked. The growls were a threat to kill, which she had no doubt they would carry out if needed. They had lost too much and too recently to trust humans in the dark.
“It’s just me… Dawnie… hey?! Willow? Spike? Xander? It’s Dawn… Niblet… the Key (well ex Key!) Buffy’s sister? Your vet??? I just wanted to talk… Well obviously me talk and you um… but anyways… it’s just Dawn OK? Please can we talk… it’s about Nadirs!”
All three adults fell to a low crouch and waited until the young woman entered sitting patiently a few meters from the door. Xander, then Spike, and finally Willow moved to surround her. Spike placed a heavy head in her lap, Willow settled at her feet and Xander wrapped his large form around her back, resting his head against the opposite knee to the side claimed by Spike.
They lay together in silence for a time, Dawn petting each in turn as all calmed, including the human.
“I think he needs to see them. I think Nadir needs to see his brothers and sisters and cousins… and Ahmil and Umbhala. He doesn’t understand what’s happened. He doesn’t know that you will all be together again one day!”
Despite his best efforts, Xander was drifting again, Dawn’s stroking and low tones were all too much but he did hear enough to understand that Nadir had never had human language, or the powerful link with his partner to ‘fill in the gaps’. Their own calm was not enough to assuage the grief of sibling loss – or erase the memory of a childhood trauma.
Dawn proposed a video link up. She promised to put it to the Sheikh – or more specifically Ahmir – as he was already frantic after learning of his Nadir’s decline, insisting Dawn did “anything in her power” to help. They would set up a digital projector and speakers, a camera and microphone and let them make contact, let Nadir know they were safe and well. But not just once, Dawn proposed at least two or three times in the first few days, then once a week until Ahmir returned.
Spike licked Dawn’s hand and purred his approval, while Willow’s unusually green eyes spelt adoration and pride as she rubbed her cheek affectionately against her friend. Her son was in a far more vulnerable state than Spike’s, being younger, it was vital that the connection rallied the older cousin.
Two days later Spike nudged his indisposed son. He growled, nipped and forced Nadir to roll then stand and follow.
On one wall of their sleeping quarters in just bigger than life size, was a picture of the enclosure in Dubai and his brothers and sisters and cousins. They were standing on short hunting leads either side of his lovely friend Ahmir and Umbhala. But not only that, the picture moved and he could hear them!
Dawn had anticipated the confusion and had the coven install a five foot high piece of Perspex a meter or so from the screen so that the young tiger would still be on camera yet would able to rub against the picture of his relatives.
The older tigers were there also, Spike and Xander relieved to see their sons and daughters well and in familiar territory. Ahmir squatted down and spoke slowly and in simple terms mainly for Nadir – but really it was for them all. He spoke of their life in Dubai; of how much he loved being home; of the new enclosure his father had built for the tigers and how much he looked forward to seeing Nadir and the little cousins again. He flicked a switch on the computer they were using and showed pictures of the youngsters on their very first hunt under Umbhala’s careful attention.
Umbhala spoke to Nadir also. He emphasized the need to be strong when the youngster arrived with his fathers in a year or three, and the idea that he would need to work hard to hone his hunting skills if he was to keep pace with the training of his brothers and sisters.
The rest of the conversation was taken over by the tigers. A reciprocal piece of Perspex had been set up in Dubai and the young tigers, leash free rubbed against it purring and communicating with their missing brother. It was heart breaking at one level but Dawn also noticed that Nadir was calling to them and communicating in an animated way that had not been happening, even with his fathers over the past weeks. Willow stayed back but her little ones were all lying against her, and though she had had to carry her smallest to the meeting, she started to feel more positive as the older Nadir would truly benefit from to the call, something her youngest was now desperately in need of.
After almost forty five minutes they had to sign off. Nadir pawed the Perspex after the screen went blank and flopped down. Spike and Xander worried again and Spike began a gentle caress, fearful that the communiqué had made things worse, but as Nadir began to purr, then returned the caresses with a large tongue Spike sent a jolt of hope through the link.
Perhaps it would all be OK.
The following day Nadir ate a full breakfast – almost eight kilos of fresh meat – then stood at the screen expectantly.
Dawn had expected as much, and the call was made. This time there was a minimum of discussion from Ahmir or their handler. A simple ten minutes of growls and purring and rubbing against the barrier. The fathers simply relaxing in the background, relieved that somehow modern technology provided something they could not.
Little Nadir II followed his cousin’s example, ate more and for no explicable reason other than the older Nadir’s mood, his spirits seemed to have raised tenfold. He was still weak and though the other cubs were eating mainly solids now, he resorted to simply feed from his mother and sleeping for almost two days straight. Willow feeling distinctly like a milking cow, drank twice as much as normal and was quite exhausted yet utterly relieved by the end of day three when the youngster finally slowed down and joined his brothers and sisters to eat a little meat again.
The video communications continued once a week for the next eight and Dawn’s gamble paid off. The two Nadir’s – and the parents – all benefited from seeing their lovely family doing well in their new environment. Xander was thrilled to see a video of one of his son’s as he made his first wild kill, sharing some of it (apparently reluctantly) with the others.
Willow continued to change back once a month to assist with the boosts for the African covens, however was finding it harder and harder. She was enjoying the thrill of the fast ‘hunting game’ behind the quad bike, particularly now her little ones were beginning to participate, and regularly gave in to her own instinct. Her physical change, like her astral form, was becoming less human each time – only enough that she might chant. Rhianon worried. It was only a matter of time before the change back could not be made and she, like her friends, would have no choice but to stay in feline form.
As her cubs approached one year old, Willow came into season again. Xander responded immediately, though Spike by choice, spent time with the other cubs and the lovely, now mature Nadir.
Father and son were on extremely friendly terms as far as tiger culture went, and often found lying close by, though rarely touched. Nadir had been hunting with the Slayers ever since his ‘recovery’ from the loss of his siblings. He was a cunning, thoughtful killer, often herding the demons or vampires toward his fathers rather than rushing in for the kill initially.
Even more than the first time, Willow gave in to the primal drives of her form. She and Xander spent three and a half days coupling repeatedly, the angry growls and deep scratches on Xander and the bite marks on the back of her neck, testimony to the tigers’ instincts.
Dawn confirmed her pregnancy four days later.
Ahmir returned to the wonderful news that there were to be more cubs.
He was to attend Oxford which was closer to the coven than Cambridge but still acceptable to his father. He had resigned himself to perhaps having to take a second degree in veterinary science or zoology later… though they were still in ‘negotiations’.
Nadir was ecstatic to see his lovely friend again. The fully grown tiger reared up, placed two enormous paws on his young master’s now broad shoulders and licked his face thoroughly. His fathers simply rubbed their cheeks against Ahmir’s legs while Willow waited to be greeted separately. Ahmir did not disappoint any of them, stroking, petting, brushing and hugging them all in turn and whispering his congratulations to Willow. Ahmir still had no idea who she really was, simply happy that someone had sourced such a fertile female for their enclosure.
He spoke about the conditions in Dubai, the wonderful enclosure his father had provided, complete with separate areas for the tigers should they wish it and also discussed his worry regarding inbreeding once they were all mature. The solution was to be one of ‘outsourcing’ or contraception. Spike sulked for much of the next day and Xander too seemed rather down. The idea of being grandparents… or not… had not truly failed to occur to them. Now it was put in such sharp relief, their children would breed, and, apparently Xander and Willow were now to have two more.
Willow’s pregnancy was easier than the first time and at the end of ninety two days two golden cubs, slightly larger than her former brood, when born. Xander was as attentive as ever, but as always, gave the mother her space for the first few days.
For Willow it was easier this time – she knew her body, gave birth easily and rejoiced in the feel of milk flowing into her teats as tiny cries and nudges indicated the familiar call of hungry mouths.
Her return to human form would be delayed again but she felt no haste, none at all. It was Mistress Rhianon’s turn to wonder if the wiccan’s condition might now be perpetual. She shared that with Giles and they both worried though again Rhianon also knew the drive. Willow seemed to be choosing motherhood over her wiccan role.
Spike took the larger cubs for a run as the new borne cubs continued to be *his* partner’s first concern.
As the tiny cub’s eyes opened, Xander ventured into her lair to greet the pretty little two. Twin girls. They learned his scent and enjoyed a bathing from their father, but were really more interested in finding their mother’s teats. He nuzzled Willow, delighting in watching the beautiful little creatures, but despite his instinct, there was a niggle of worry. Somewhere in the residual human mind, he was worried about a second coupling with a friend (?) and the likely fate of his third set of children.
On the tenth day of his twin’s lives, he was licked to sleep by a caring tongue, Spike caressing the rather despondent and confused male. The attention was not only physical, through their link the emotions and images were evocative even if the remaining words were simple. Spike realized that his dear love had lost human language almost completely now, as much through lack of use than lack of intent.
Xander purred with gratitude and contentment as he was stimulated and satisfied by his lovely partner. It took some time for him to ‘come down’, though he stood immediately as the door opened for their handler Umbhala for the first time in months. The three parents lifted their necks to allow their collars to be attached to leads. Their submission nothing to do with servitude, simply that of trust and custom.
Two Squared: 14