Exit – Chapter 11

Chapter 10

In a clearing, by a river, a wolf was slowly waking up. The jungle sounds were fading from their daytime noisiness, to the dusk chorus of birds and other animals, softly singing the green world to sleep. The wolf shivered, and raised his head, brown eyes widening as he realized how late it was… And that his panther friend hadn’t been back yet.

Angel sat up slowly, then stood up and turned in a circle. Not only was Spike not THERE… even his scent had faded, to the point that Angel was certain that he hadn’t been back all day. And that worried him. More than it should have, considering that a few days before, he’d seen Spike as nothing but an annoying irritant sent to disrupt his already insane life.

Now, he couldn’t imagine life without the younger vampire.

The wolf slowly moved around the clearing, his nose to the ground and ears unconsciously lying back against his head. No. Spike had left that morning, to get food. He’d told Angel that he’d be back in a few hours… But it had been far more than a few hours. And all that lingered of the panther’s scent were tiny traces. Angel slowly moved his tail, the action more subconscious than conscious now, an indicator that the wolf was thinking.

If Spike was still out hunting, then he’d have to be back soon. If he wasn’t back by the time it really started getting dark, he would start tracking the panther. If he screwed up his companion’s hunt… Well, going hungry would be a small price to pay for knowing that Spike was all right.

The wolf was so focused on picking up the panther’s scent, that he didn’t even see the curious green eyes that were watching him from just inside the nearby foliage.

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A wolf?, Buffy thought in confusion. I’m not looking for a wolf… Why did you bring me here?

The Jaguar’s instincts didn’t provide an answer. In fact, her Guide was strangely silent tonight. Buffy had the sinking feeling that she was actually very much on her own. This was her quest… Not a true Guiding dream. So it was perfectly normal that her Jaguar would mostly stay out of it. Still, it gave her a sinking feeling of loneliness that refused to go away.

She watched the wolf, though. Something told her that he was almost as important to this as the panther. So she waited. And she watched. And she hoped the panther would come back soon.

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Spike groaned quietly, his gold eyes slowly blinking awake. Pain racked his body almost immediately. From his throbbing head, to the dull ache in his shoulder where the bones were no longer in their proper places. The cold, stiff body of the duiker he’d killed earlier swam into his vision as his eyes cleared a bit more. And it was followed by a wall.

Slowly, the panther raised his head and looked around, taking in his surroundings slowly. The pit was relatively small, but incredibly deep. One wall had collapsed slightly, and formed a bit of an incline, but Spike knew immediately that his shoulder wasn’t in any shape to attempt to get out of the pit. So the first thing to do seemed rather obvious… He needed to pop his shoulder back into place.

He knew how he’d go about it in a human body, of course. Ball and socket joints are relatively easy to relocate. But cats don’t have ball and socket joints in their shoulders. They have sliding joints. And, if he wasn’t careful, he could shatter his own shoulder in the process and ensure his own death in this dark pit.

Pushing himself up on his three good legs, he limped over to one of the walls. The top of the pit had been amazingly well shielded from the almost constant rains that plagued the forest above, and the walls were dry and hardened because of it. All except for the slanted wall, which had encouraged drainage, and was rather muddy, along with the floor of the pit. But a coating of leaves and rocks kept the panther out of the worst of the mud. He approached the wall slowly, and rotated his good shoulder a bit, getting a feel for how the bones were attached.

For once, the cat in his head was silent. As if it had given up. An injury like this, to a normal panther, would spell death. And the instincts that shared the body with him knew that. But Spike was never one for giving up. If the odds were bad, he’d fight. If they got worse, he’d fight harder. And he was always sure he could win. But this time, with his feline instincts being silent for the first time in days, a sick sense of loneliness was creeping up on him. He could very well die in this pit. In a body that didn’t even belong to him.

And worse than the pain in his shoulder and head, was the ache in his heart when he realized that Angel was still in no condition to hunt. If he died, he’d be condemning his Sire to death as well. A lingering death from starvation, at that. Spike set his jaw, and swooshed his tail slowly. He would not let that happen to Angel.

He slowly pushed his injured shoulder against the wall, gritting his teeth to keep from crying out at the pain of bone grating on bone as the shoulder moved. But it WAS moving… He panted, breathing coming in snorts through his nose as he continued to push. The pain was blinding now, and all he could see was a literal red haze clouding over his vision… And he noticed that the red haze was slowly turning gray.

He was passing out, he realized. The pain was too much for this body, the panther not being as resistant to pain as his vampire form. But just a bit further… Just a little more, and it’d be over… He just… had to… stay… awake…

No animal in the jungle was close enough to hear the small ‘pop’ that preceded the thump of an unconscious body hitting the leaf strewn floor of the pit.

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As the sun slipped below the horizon, a lone wolf slipped off into the jungle, following the scent trail left by a Black Panther. And he remained unaware of the gold-furred, green-eyed jaguar that followed him from a distance.

Angel tracked Spike deep into the jungle, all worry and thoughts of how he might find his way back to the river out of his mind as he focused on finding his Childe. His ears swiveled slowly atop his head, listening for any sound that might indicate that the panther was close. The longer he walked, the more worried he became. Spike had been gone for over twelve hours by now, without even so much as checking in as he had the last time he’d gone hunting.

The wolf put the lingering pain of his old wounds out of his mind as he focused on the scent trail before him. After about an hour, he came upon the place where Spike had killed the duiker. Curious, he sniffed around the area for awhile. So. Spike had made a kill… But then he hadn’t come back to the river… Why? Where was he? Something bad had to have happened. Angel was sure of it. Gone were the doubts about his Childe’s intentions. He knew now that there was no way Spike would have just abandoned him. They cared too much about each other now. They needed each other, and Angel was ready to admit it.

His tail swished slowly, and raised his head, checking the air for any sign that the panther was still close… But there was nothing. Nothing beyond a partially cold trail that lead back in the direction of the river. Angel sighed, and started to follow that trail… But froze, suddenly feeling as if he was being watched.

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Buffy inwardly cursed herself for stepping on that stupid twig. She knew the wolf she was following hadn’t picked up the almost silent sound of the twig breaking probably, but he had stopped for SOME reason… And was looking in her direction.

She crouched low in the underbrush, wishing that her Jaguar had the ability to become invisible. The tip of her tail itched to twitch, but she wouldn’t allow it to move, no matter how agitated she got. She wished the wolf would just let it go, and get back to tracking the panther. She had been connecting the dots while she followed the wolf, and everything was slowly starting to fit together.

This wolf had to be the source of the barking sounds she’d heard that night she’d spent with the panther by the river. The wolf was the panther’s friend. And that meant that it was most likely another Guide, if the panther truly WAS Spike’s Guide. So who was the wolf? That was the one thing she hadn’t figured out. It didn’t belong here… There weren’t wolves in this jungle, she was certain of it. So this one was out of place… and with the panther. It had to be someone Spike knew. It was male, she knew that for certain, so there was no way it could’ve been Dru, or Harmony, or any of Spike’s vampire ‘friends’. Guides always keep the same gender as their Guided. So a male. With a canine Guide. If the wolf had been white, she almost could’ve sworn it was Angel. But… it was gray. A dirty, muddy gray. With healing wounds all over it’s body.

Besides. Angel HATED Spike. Animal or not, Guide or not, the two would never interact like this. And Angel would certainly never head off into the night to find Spike. So that couldn’t be it. It had to be someone else.

And the wolf had started moving again, so Buffy pushed herself up out of her crouch and followed after him. When he found the panther, she’d ask him who the wolf was. It was a benefit of both being cats, that they could understand each other. At least through their Guide’s instincts. She had no hope of being able to speak to the wolf, so she didn’t even bother trying. Instead, she followed on in silence.

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Angel followed the panther’s trail, now fully aware that another creature was following him. But he sensed no malice from the animal, and the sensation felt almost the same as it had felt when the jaguar that Spike had brought to their camp a few days earlier was looking at him. So, he figured that it was most likely her. Spike trusted her… And he was feeling good enough that he was relatively sure that he’d be able to fight or run if she DID attack. So he decided just to let her follow along. Who knows… He might wind up needing her for something.

Angel suddenly froze, and his eyes widened. The wolf’s instincts had just SCREAMED at him to stay still. To not take another step. He had no idea what was going on, but if Spike had taught him one thing recently, it was that the animals knew this place better than they did. The wolf wasn’t trying to dominate him… It was trying to protect ITSELF. Therefore, there was no reason for him to fight it anymore.

And something was telling the wolf that Angel was on the edge of very real danger.

Oh, how he longed for his vampire eyes. The sight that could cut through the darkness like it was noon on a sunny day. But the wolf was a daylight hunter. It’s eyes weren’t used to low light, and he couldn’t see well enough to find out what it was that had his body stiff and legs locked.

But the Jaguar could.

Desperate to continue on, Angel turned and looked back, shocking the jaguar by locking eyes with her, even as she tried to hide from him. “Please,” he whispered, the words coming out as a soft whimpering whine from his wolf snout. “I won’t hurt you… I need your help. I can’t see… I have to find him. I have to find Spike, and I need to be able to see… Why does his scent end here? Why does it just drop off like that? Help me…”

The jaguar blinked at him slowly, then carefully slipped out of the bushes and approached him.

Angel swallowed, but he couldn’t help being impressed by the way the cat moved. She had such a beautiful way of moving. And as she slipped through a shaft of moonlight, shining down through the trees, he felt his breath catch in his throat.

Buffy?

But no… That was impossible… Wasn’t it? Why did a cat remind him of his Slayer? But… she did. Maybe it was the green eyes… Or the way she moved like she could take on anything and win. Or maybe it was the way she was looking at him. With wariness, but a willingness to trust in her eyes that nearly sent the wolf to his knees. Suddenly, he understood why Spike had been so captivated by the beautiful cat. It was like she was Buffy, in feline form.

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Buffy was slightly unnerved by the way the wolf was staring at her… But if he was the panther’s friend, then he had to be worthy of trust. How she knew that, she didn’t know… But as her green eyes locked with his brown, she suddenly felt like she was falling.

Angel?

No… No. It couldn’t be. Not the way he’d been interacting with the panther, if it really WAS Spike. But… but those eyes… Those deep, soulful brown eyes. She knew the wolf, too… And it was almost all she could do not to launch herself at him and try to kiss the wolf. But she restrained herself, taking a deep breath, then reached deep inside her own soul, for the mated bond she still carried… and when she touched it, it was as if she’d been blind and suddenly could see. But, more importantly… she could HEAR.

“…to be able to see… Why does his scent end here? Why does it just drop off like that? Help me…”, the wolf was saying… In Angel’s voice.

“Angel?”, she responded in a whisper, speaking along their long dormant bond. A bond she had just reawakened.

The wolf froze, and those beautiful brown eyes widened almost comically as the two animals stared at each other. “Buffy?”, he asked finally, his voice a mixture of disbelief and awe. Then, almost before either of them could think, they were together. Buffy nuzzled her jaguar’s head up under the wolf’s chin, feeling like she would be crying if the body would allow it.

Angel was licking at her ears, the same way he had for Spike not too long ago, and nuzzling as much of his body against her as he could, the two turning in tight circles in their reunion. Angel’s tail was wagging, but he felt choked up. Buffy! Here! He wasn’t alone… He and Spike weren’t alone… Buffy was here… She was…

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…Here… He was here… Angel was really here. Buffy didn’t feel like she could breathe, and she knocked the wolf to the ground in her excitement, nuzzling her head against his furry chest and blinking up at him, the two wrapping their paws around each other in the closest thing to a hug either could muster. She couldn’t believe she had dismissed it so quickly earlier…

And the two were so wrapped up in each other, that the startling sensation that had caused the wolf to stop in the first place was almost forgotten… As, for the moment, was the panther lying unconscious in a pit, less than three yards from where the wolf and jaguar lay.

Chapter 12