Two Squared: 14
Spike woke to loving licks and “Love… Love! Mate… Love...You!” flowing liberally through the link.
Dawn had taken to putting on music through the now permanent system. Louis Armstrong was playing today and ‘A Wonderful World’ rang out as Xander was reciprocally caressed by Spike. He could no longer remember the context but had flashes of ‘Santa hats’ and people with glasses of fancy human drinks… and of kisses in the snow… and of his mate and love… a lot of love.
He licked carefully under the beloved chin then over a closed eye and began to caress the large ears, the adorable twitch he now knew so well, inevitable as the ticklish white tiger dropped his head onto his paws and stretched out luxuriantly to enjoy the ministrations. Both large males were purring loudly and attracting the attention of Xander’s two youngest.
The tiny females padded up and began to chase Spike’s tail. Their father’s partner made little effort, indeed did not move from his enjoyable spot, and simply flicked the appendage just enough that the little ones could pounce and miss, or gently tumble as they caught a little too late. The tiny claws stung somewhat, but it was of little consequence.
Willow eventually wandered over, nudged Xander affectionately, gave Spike a quick lick, then retrieved her wandering pair, efficiently carrying them by the scruff of the neck back to their lair.
Later that day, after a decent run, a feed and a snooze, Xander and Spike were side by side watching Spike’s Nadir and Willow’s first litter take off up the hill behind their two trainers on the quad bikes, while Willow’s youngest two padded over to their mother’s place in the enclosure.
Spike nudged his partner. The most resilient and adaptable, Spike still had the capacity to understand speech, and was aware of the coven’s worry over Willow. He turned to watch the tigress carefully attend her two little girls then fall to her side and encourage them to feed from her. She barely tolerated the adult males any more and Spike worried.
Xander’s old friend had become more and more solitary. Choosing to remain by herself with her cubs and retrieving them when they wandered too far. It had not been like that with the first litter. Now she was possessive and often distant, refusing to eat with them and certainly unwilling to touch.
Xander accepted, his tiger instincts telling him it was all normal and his remaining human logic concluding it was to do with having tiny twin girls versus brood of four, but Spike suspected the wiccan was really slipping. A tigress in the wild was a solitary individual with the single exception of the mating period. It seemed Willow was submitting to the natural drive.
The following month Willow refused to change back at all when Rhianon tried to contact her. Two months later, as her twins approached six months old, Giles’ finally coaxed her to shift enough that their energy boost to Africa could proceed.
After the communing, she immediately reverted to tiger form. And Giles slumped down with Xander and Spike as they all watched the former wiccan reacquaint herself with her babies. Giles felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. He had always wanted the best for Willow and Xander and of late… Spike… and had wished on many occasions that Willow would understand. It was certainly not the outcome he had intended!
Xander had all but lost the ability to follow human conversations, so simply went with the smell and emotions. His old friend was sad, so he did as he would with any of the family. He repeatedly licked and rubbed against the human he still registered as ‘friend Giles’. He licked some more as Giles put his head in his hands, dropped to his knees, and when Giles finally threw his arms around the tiger and hugged him, interspersing expressions of “Oh my dear boy,” with tears. Xander began to purr to calm his old friend.
As he approached his ninth year as a feline, Spike’s language too was beginning to slip, much more so since Willow no longer communicated with them on an astral plane. He, like Xander, would only engage when they heard names or commands they recognized. But unlike Xander, he would occasionally attempt to interpret Giles or Rhianon as they spoke. Xander had made no such effort for quite some time.
Spike was the first to admit… it was simply a lack of use issue along with learned behavior. With no words at his command, on a daily basis it had become far easier to convey his thoughts by gesture and vocalization. What he did not expect was the rapid decline in his own interpretive abilities over the last two years. The former vampire reflected that he now simply ‘tuned out’ to humans, even Dawn, unless it was a direct instruction. For the most part the humans spoke over their charges, chatting about nothing in particular, not asking his input or opinion, and given the cognitive effort it now took to understand… it simply was not worth it. At some level he felt sad to lose the ability but at another it was a relief. It was his final act of letting go of his former life.
Willow had been a tiger for just over two years. Her first litter of cubs were now fully grown, all of them quite beautiful. The markings on the white female were particularly pretty. Every one of the tigers’ striping was unique, but the female had finer lines than her golden brothers, reflecting that she was indeed of Spike’s making. The males were all magnificent, large, powerful creatures with coats shining and they had exuberant, youthful attitudes to match. It was summer and Ahmir announced, time for them to leave for Dubai. This time the older Nadir would travel with them joining his brothers and sisters in their desert paradise.
Spike was distressed as his favorite rubbed his plush cheek against him the night they were told, but also understood. His son was very attached to Nadir II, and deserved the right to experience hunting in the open. Father and son moved together as soon as they knew Ahmir’s intentions. Xander gave them their space.
Spike initially licked over his son’s stunning features, caressing the white ears and handsome jaw-line and finally, ran his broad tongue over the now closed, blue eyes. Nadir had begun to purr as soon as his ears were touched, his father expressing his adoration loudly. Spike finally ceased his fatherly caress and rolled onto his side whereby his son edged closer, placing his chin on his father’s torso. The permission to contact in such an intimate way was the ultimate privilege and spelt comfort and family. The two adult males continued to purr, Nadir knowing that he was loved and belonged, and that he was being given his father’s blessing as he ventured away from their family home. Nadir II and he were both ready. They would be sedated and transferred four days later.
Willow’s original reason for joining her friends in their current state was the transfer of their children. Now it was hers that were being taken. Just as they had all suspected, she had ‘slipped’ and was no longer speaking to her keepers, therefore was confused by the move and the actions going on around her, despite Spike’s best efforts to reassure her.
As the first of her children was darted and drugged ready for transfer, she attacked, almost making it to the handler wielding the tranquilizer gun before he was able to escape the enclosure. She paced protectively in front of her unconscious son daring anyone to come close, then was hit with a tranquilizer dart herself and fell to the ground within seconds. The other tigers were readied for their trip while Rhianon risked a move to the comatose form of her friend. The wiccan shed tears as she stroked her friend, then had an idea.
Rhianon approached Spike cautiously as the white tiger growled a warning. Xander was behind him, both their large bodies protecting Willow’s two youngest who were cowering in the back of the lair terrified by the confusion going on around them, and the distress of their mother. She knew the white tiger was grieving the loss of contact with Nadir and understood. She stroked him and began to chant, attempting to contact him on the astral plane. She was amazed when, despite all the mayhem and angst, she was successful.
Initially the form she faced was all tiger, but it sat then gradually shifted to present Spike’s beautiful human features and trim torso. Rhianon gasped, she had never realized how attractive the vampire was in his human form even though, from the waist down, he remained all tiger. But the shift was enough.
Rhianon began communicating as soon as she was confident the shift was stable, “I need your advice Spike. I believe we need Willow to find her way back to human form, but this cannot happen while she is pregnant or looking after cubs. I will not force her, but her little girls are now one, are no longer feeding from her, and are ready to hunt. Would Xander let her go to Dubai… with her little girls? I know it is separating the family but only for two years…”
There was a definite growl, “No!...... If you take her then you must take us all, *please* don’t keep tearing our family away …. Please!... take us all… at least until the little ones are grown… please!”
Rhianon thought hard for a moment, then nodded and gave the elder of the tiger clan her promise. She would do her best to keep the family as one… indeed to reunite the whole clan.
She contacted Ahmil and this time alerted him to the fact that she was able to communicate with his lovely Bahir, and that the tiger had begged to travel with their children. Ahmil reluctantly agreed on the grounds of the welfare of his friends and the fact he would be spending at least six months (a full semester) of the coming year back in Dubai at his father’s request. The older tigers would likely return to England with him after Willow’s youngest two were fully grown.
Giles, Rhianon and Dawn sat petting their three former friends. Spike lay with his head in Dawn’s lap, a large paw resting over her right knee, and purred loudly. She was to travel to Dubai within the week and was thrilled to have the opportunity to work exclusively for the Sheikh and intent upon collecting data for a treatise on big cat behavior and breeding in captivity. She gently injected all three tigers with their anesthetic and joined Rhianon who had pulled Giles to her ample breast in a tight hug. They would all miss their feline friends desperately.
Only a matter of two hours later the enclosure was empty and the parents were crated and traveling with their children.
As usual, the animals were all sedated for much of their trip, but after three days of semi consciousness, ten rather groggy tigers came to.
Spike and Xander recognized the smells and the heat immediately. The scent of the children and realization that they were still all together afforded immense comfort and prompted loud purring, which was picked up by all the now mature cubs. Nadir II nudged his older cousin with sleepy pleasure, thrilled to find his namesake with them, yet confused by the venue and the heat. Umbhala and an assistant arrived and they directed Willow and her two litters to a temporary holding pen but clipped leads onto Nadir Spike and Xander then walked them to an enormous enclosure.
It was a joyful moment, the scents were unmistakable and the two fathers and the missing brother were let loose in the space to spend the morning joyfully reacquainting themselves with their lost offspring.
Spike and Nadir both rubbed noses with the other white tigers. One of the sisters was covered in dust but looked incredibly pleased with herself, and as Spike nudged then licked under her chin, he tasted a fresh kill, and something else. A golden tiger, Hassan, one of Xander’s first litter, edged up beside the pretty girl named Amala (‘hope’) by Ahmil, and her father realized the reason for the strange smell. He was to be a grandfather… and so was Xander. He looked at her carefully, it would be soon. Xander joined his partner and they both rejoiced.
Spike and Xander both nudged her then licked over her ears and under her chin. She flopped to the ground with pleasure and their ministrations swiftly taken over, with a growl, by her partner.
On the day of Dawn’s arrival, only a week after the tigers, a litter of three tiny cubs were born to Amala, all white, their stripes and their vision still to emerge. Hassan stood over his partner, like all the offspring of Xander and Spike, unusually protective and drawn to keep his family safe.
The grandfathers were recognized by scent and allowed close after three weeks. Hassan was out on a hunt when the three tiny cubs ventured away from their mother to enjoy the smell of family and loving tongues.
Xander and Spike were in their prime, beautiful coats shining in the afternoon sun, muscles obviously rippling with each move, and gem encrusted collars sparkling. Unlike the majority of their offspring, they were openly affectionate to Ahmil and Umbhala, therefore allowed out of the enclosure, regularly accompanying Ahmil to the house.
The Sheikh was initially rather concerned at the presence of two huge felines, but soon realized the effect the pair had on some of his ‘less friendly’ business associates when they were hosting groups for negotiation reasons. The fact that Spike occasionally seemed to growl at some veiled insult or dubious statement did not hurt either, indeed the Sheikh could have sworn that the tiger understood precisely what was being said. The blue eyes of the tiger glittering as Ahmil declared that he was certain Spike understood.
Even after his son returned to Oxford, Spike and Xander continued to keep the Sheikh company on a daily basis except when being exercised. Their place was in front of the enormous oak desk or nestled at their the feet of the Sheikh well fed and relaxed. Spike enjoying the right to 'comment' at certain times.
After three and a half years as a tiger, Willow was on a small rise watching her two youngest, beautiful girls hunting in the game park. She could see Xander and Spike flanking them herding the prey their way, and guiding the youngsters by example. She was still not comfortable with the kill, something of the Willow of Sunnydale, not the tiger or the powerful wiccan, continued to speak to her whenever she became aware after the hunt. She was a predator, powerful, magnificent, lethal, yet somewhere in her psyche, there was still Willow and she had not quite settled that.
As she watched her girls pull down a small antelope and begin to feed, she finally decided to change back and return to the coven.
Willow returned to England with Ahmir and Dawn as December came.
The change was made at the turn of the new year. Strangely some features remained. She had been a strict vegetarian… but now yearned and regularly consumed very rare red meat. Her teeth were different, canines distinctly longer than the others, and she sought solitude whenever possible. Her ability to purr did not diminish, and she continued to sport striped hair, fur down her spine line, and a tail, of which she was quite proud. She chose to change to her tiger form for at least three days each month and refused to remove her gem encrusted collar even though, as a human, it was many sizes too big.
After three years, some of the family had been transferred to a second facility rather than over crowd the big cats, and a few mating pairs had been ‘loaned’ to other zoos and friends with facilities. Ahmil never agreed to selling, and the Sheikh respecting his son’s wishes. There were two pairs sent back at the coven.
Willow had no partner or human children and in her changed state and having aged in human terms fifteen years, she was limited in her options. But she remembered the feeling of belonging and the sense of completeness. She watched longingly as one of Spike’s original litter, one of Xander’s and two of her girls – one from the first litter Izdihar and Fara from her second – moved into their new home.
She knew it was time. Willow begged the coven and Giles and it was finally agreed. Modern medicine was doing what the energy boosts could not regards their sisters and brothers in Africa, and the entire coven had seen the gradual demise of their lovely elder. She yearned for family and wholeness, and had come to terms with her own bloodlust. When presented with the video link of late, she had simply dissolved into tears and been unable to change or reply. It was killing her. Willow had beautiful grandchildren that she had never touched or seen in person… thirteen to date… they were all well, and well cared for but…
She was sitting next to Giles, her head buried in his thick woolen sweater, gradually wetting it with her tears... again. Giles was still not quite used to the idea nor the reality of the tail that wrapped around him being part of his friend, but listened to her plea.
“I won’t be coming back, I don’t want to Giles.”
The aging ex watcher rested his chin on the short striped hair, then lifted her chin and kissed her on the forehead. “I will miss you… I would like you to stay, you to know that. You were *all* my children. But if you are sure…” He stared hard at her as she blinked up, letting him see her tears and the truth of what she asked.
Ten days later Willow joined her family in Dubai, twelve days later Xander was to be a father again.
Spike licked over his partner’s ears happy to at last have his lovely friend to himself – when the golden male wasn’t increasing the size of their clan! He moved to pleasure other regions, and the act was reciprocated… Their completion marked their twelfth year as tigers and his eyes wandered to admire the many little white grandchildren that now populated the home enclosure. He may have given up eternity, but life was good. He had the sun, his lover, still had the kill, and… was truly content.
Xander purred, sated and happy, and Spike joined him. And the two males relaxed against each other in the shade and slept.