Exit – Chapter 10

Chapter 9

Giles sighed and leaned back, removing his glasses and rubbing at the bridge of his nose. He gazed down at his Slayer, who was seemingly engrossed in another book, lying on her stomach on the floor. Or, at least, she would’ve seemed engrossed in it… if he hadn’t been able to hear her snoring quietly.

“Buffy?”, the Watcher whispered, gently nudging at the Slayer’s book with the toe of his shoe. “Buffy, wake up.”

“Engh,” the Slayer mumbled, and reached over her head to swat the offending shoe away from her head.

Giles couldn’t help but smile a bit. Some things never change, he mused to himself. Buffy had always gone to sleep during study or research sessions. It was part of the Slayer’s physiology, actually, to help make up for the fact that she was awake all but two or three hours of the average night. He’d made a point never to bother her about it for that very reason. Especially since she also seemed to possess the uncanny ability to understand everything she’d supposedly been reading, even when he knew for a fact that her eyes had been closed for the majority of the session.

Still, this was her project. And he needed to ask her something. “Buffy,” he said again, this time a little louder.

“Mmph,” she mumbled, then, rolling onto her back, “Don’t touch the corn muffins…”

Giles raised an eyebrow… then closed the book on his lap with a loud clapping sound. Finally, Buffy started awake… Giving off a little growl of surprise as she did so, which Giles chose to ignore. “I hope I didn’t ruin the corn muffins,” her Watcher said teasingly.

“Huh?”, the sleepy Slayer mumbled, blinking up at him, her face a picture of confusion, but Giles only chuckled.

“Nevermind.” He sighed, then leaned forward in his chair and opened the book again, holding it open for her to see. “This is the only thing I can find about anyone encountering another’s Guide in a dream, Buffy… And the other person was actually ALIVE.” His voice got a bit softer. “Also, the two were soul bonded mates… Like you were with Angel. I seriously doubt that panther you saw was Angel… and nothing I can find suggests that there’s any way it could have been Spike.”

Buffy made a soft sound and pulled the book from his hands. “There has to be some reason, though, Giles… I KNEW that panther… It was him… His Guide, anyway.” She looked up at her Watcher, suddenly curious about something. “What happened to Grnew and the Jaguar when I died before? Did they just… disappear?”

Giles shook his head and sighed. “No… They are real animals, first and foremost, Buffy. All that happens to them when their Guided dies is that they go back to living the normal life of… whatever creature they are. Their lives are no longer bound to their Guided, and consequently, they’re no longer immortal. But when you came back, both Grnew and the Jaguar reattached themselves to you. They only aged a few months while you were gone.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “So you’re saying that, if Spike’s Guide WAS this panther, then it still could be alive?”

“Without the connection to the Guided,” Giles said quietly. “It would behave as any other panther would. And it certainly would show no favor to another cat entering its territory. You may have encountered someone’s Guide, Buffy… But there’s no way it could have been Spike’s.”

Buffy shook her head. “No. It would HAVE to be someone I know, Giles. You said yourself… Soul mated bonds are what it took the last time something like this happened-”

“And your soul mated bond is with Angel,” Giles interrupted sternly. “NOT Spike.”

Buffy winced at that, as she knew for a fact that Angel’s Guide was not… and had never been a cat. Of any kind. “Wouldn’t it be… possible to have TWO soul mated bonds?”, she whispered, blinking up at Giles with her wide, ‘I’m-just-an-innocent-little-girl’ eyes, that always had touched something deep in Giles heart.

Her Watcher sighed, but slowly shook his head. “It has never happened before in recorded history, Buffy,” he said quietly, his tone softer now… But then he offered her a small smile. “But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t POSSIBLY happen… What is it that Xander’s so fond of quoting?”

Buffy smiled. “There isn’t a history of something before it happens. Then there is,” she said with a quiet smile. “I forget what movie that’s from.”

Giles just nodded, and then sighed, leaning back in his chair. “In other words… the only way we’ll ever know for sure is if your Guide chooses to grace you with another guest appearance of that mysterious panther.” He raised an eyebrow pointedly, motioning to the clock on the wall… which showed nearly two a.m. “And that will only happen if you go to bed.”

Buffy pouted, but nodded, putting the book she’d been napping on back on the shelf, then headed out of the library and for her room, calling a goodnight to Giles over her shoulder. She was rather tired, she considered as she walked up the stairs. And it really wasn’t surprising. She hadn’t gotten much sleep last night… Especially considering that one tends to wake up from a Guiding dream as if they’d actually expended all the energy the Guide had. Add that to the full day of Slayer training, and now this late night study session, and it wasn’t really surprising that she was sleepy.

She changed into her pink piggy pajamas, in honor of her MIA pig, Mr. Gordo, turned off the light, and crawled into bed. She yawned as she settled against her pillows, and closed her eyes, soundlessly praying that tonight, her Jaguar would choose to make her presence known once again.

* * * * * * * *

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Spike growled quietly, and scratched absently at an itch behind his ear. By now, it felt like second nature to be able to touch his face with his foot.

That morning, he’d decided that the boar carcass was simply too decayed to be entirely safe to eat from anymore, so he’d rolled it to the water’s edge and allowed their old friend the Crocodile to have the leftovers. Now, he was on the hunt again, but since he hadn’t been able to find the Jaguar since she’d disappeared the other morning, he was being forced to use every skill the panther body possessed to track and bring down something on his own.

And, after an entire morning of hunting, he’d finally found something. A duiker. One of the world’s smallest antelope, the duiker was really no bigger than a miniature dog, but there was enough meat on it to satisfy both the panther and his wolfen companion for at least a day. The problem was that the little thing was incredibly skittish. He couldn’t seem to get close enough to it to successfully set up any sort of pounce. And Spike was beginning to get restless.

He was downwind, and had been crouching in the same spot for nearly an hour now. The duiker was coming his way. The wind carried its scent directly to his waiting nose. But the little creature was moving agonizingly slowly. Spike had chosen a perfect place to set up his one pounce kill, but his muscles, having been held tense for almost an hour, were starting to ache. It would all be worth it when the duiker walked into his trap, he continually told himself as he resisted the urge to scratch again. Something was tickling the hell out of his ear, but he refused to even flick it to shoo the offending insect away.

As tends to happen when one tries consciously to hold completely still, his body was being assailed by an amazing amount of itches, tickles, small pains, and inexplicable urges to sneeze that were almost enough to drive the waiting panther insane. But the worse thing by far was that… that THING on his ear. It was very close to pushing him over the edge.

But, suddenly, there it was. The sound he’d been listening for. The soft sound of tiny hooves on dry leaves, moving slowly toward him. He tensed, his renewed focus banishing all thoughts of the maddening sensations from his head. He slowly unsheathed his claws, and his whiskered lip curled back over his fangs as the duiker came within reach. He waited until there was no possible way he could miss, then sprang from his hiding place.

His timing was perfect, and the tiny antelope’s body was dangling from his jaws mere moments later, as he started back for the river. He was feeling rather proud of himself for bringing the small animal down all by himself. For having hunted it without another creature’s help. But that thought again turned his train of thought to the mysterious Jaguar.

Where had she gone, he wondered constantly. Did she have cubs nearby? Maybe a den? Or was she simply a wanderer? Was this her territory, and he and Angel were trespassing, taking her prey? Or was SHE the one passing through the territory of their bodies? He had no answers, and longed to see those beautiful green eyes again long enough to actually GET some.

He was so preoccupied that he didn’t even see the carefully disguised deep hole dug in the ground, before he was falling. It felt like an eternity, and the yowl his body let out in fright startled all the creatures in the canopy above into silence. When he finally hit the bottom of the pitfall trap, he groaned quietly. The impact had dislocated something, and he’d hit his head on the way down.

He had just enough time to let out one roar, coupled with a mental scream for help, before his injuries got the better of him, and the black panther passed out, his hard won duiker corpse lying in the trap beside him.

Chapter 11