Buffy still couldn’t believe Angel was here. Now that the two were so close together, she could see that what she had mistaken for gray fur was actually white fur covered in mud and dried blood. But the fact that the wolf was dirty didn’t bother her. It was Angel. He was really here…
She felt almost as if she’d lost control of her body. Her paws were kneading at Angel’s furry side, in a way that apparently tickled, from the way he squirmed a bit, and she was licking just about anywhere she could reach. Her rough tongue gently grooming the dirt and blood from the wolf’s face and ears as they laid together on the forest floor.
Having been relatively silent ever since their reunion, Angel finally stopped licking back at the Jaguar long enough to form a few words. “How did you get here, baby?”, he said softly, his ‘voice’ almost a whisper, as if he were afraid to speak loudly for fear that it would make the Jaguar vanish.
Buffy paused her own licking… but that only encouraged Angel to resume his, going back to gently licking her neck… The same spot that, on her human body, still carried his scar. “I’m not here,” she said quietly, and smiled internally at the confused look that Angel gave her. For once, it was HER turn to be cryptic. “And neither are you.”
Angel just blinked at her, then shoved gently at her with his paws. “You feel pretty ‘here’ to me, Buffy.”
She shrugged and ‘grinned’ at him. “I am. But I’m not, either.”
The wolf made a face at her, sitting up. “And I thought I was supposed to be the cryptic one.”
Buffy giggled, the whuffing sound her Jaguar made in response eerily similar to the way Spike’s panther laughed. “It’s my turn.”
He sighed, then smirked and pounced at her, using his paws to knock her onto her back and pin her down, smiling when she squealed and swatted at him playfully. “Explain, little Slayer,” he taunted playfully, nipping at her ears and pulling gently on one when he succeeded in getting it into his mouth.
Buffy laughed and shoved at him again, then dropped a paw and tickled his tummy to make him let go. “Stop it!”
He moved off her and made a face again, laying his ears back against his head in mock anger. “ME stop it? You’re the one that keeps tickling me.”
She giggled again and sat up, then shook herself and stretched slowly, grinning at him. “I know. But it’s an easy way to get you to leave me alone.” She walked a slow circle around the wolf, nuzzling against him, her jaguar body purring softly as she did so. “And I did explain. We’re here. But we’re not. It’s kind of simple, actually.”
Angel sighed. “I’ve been here for… God. Over a week now, I think. Living in the body of a wolf, Buffy. I’m here.”
She sighed and sat down, raising a paw to touch at his now white wolf face, smoothing down a bit of fur that was sticking up. “Yes. Your mind is. But the body isn’t yours… It’s your Guide’s, Angel. We talked about this… I guess this is what you get for never believing me that you HAVE one.”
The wolf blinked. “But… But I’ve never had a Guiding dream. And a WOLF? Come on.”
The jaguar rolled her eyes and tapped the side of his head with her still raised paw. “I TOLD you it was a white wolf. And you have had Guiding dreams, Angel. You just never consciously REMEMBER them. We’ve SHARED one before, when I was using Grnew. And in THAT place, your wolf was perfectly at home. Wolves like you belong in North America. Not… Well, this is either South America, or India. And with the panther around, I’m thinking it’s India. But that means that * I * am out of place. So I really don’t know where we are.”
Angel just sat down, absorbing all of this. When he thought about it, he COULD remember waking up and feeling surer about a course of action, but never knowing WHY. Having a Guiding dream and not remembering it would make that make sense. But now… Well, he was conscious NOW. So why hadn’t he woken up yet? Curious, he posed the same question to Buffy.
Buffy sighed. “When Giles taught me about Guides, he told me that they sometimes don’t allow you to wake up until you’ve gotten the point of the dream. Maybe you just haven’t, yet. Or maybe my presence is throwing something off. I don’t know. I do know that you have NOT been here for a week. Guides have… a bit of control over time itself. Just because I’m here, doesn’t mean I’m having the dream at the same time you are. Let’s use a little test. When you were… yourself, last, what was the date?”
Angel considered for a moment, then said quietly, “March 23rd.”
Buffy blinked, then sighed. “Well. That’s a little further removed than I expected. It’s… two weeks earlier where I am. March 2nd.”
The wolf’s eyes widened. “So even if I told you where I am… There’s no chance that you could find a way to come wake me up?”
Buffy sighed and shook her head. “Then again, several days have passed where I am since I was here last… It could be that you’re on my time, somehow. And until the two time streams catch up, we won’t be able to do anything to help each other.”
Angel sighed and laid down, covering his face with his paws for a moment and curling his tail around himself. “Perfect.” He blinked up at Buffy, and his eyes widened when he realized she was backing away. “Buffy?”
She shook her head. “I have to wake up… I can’t do it in sight of another Guide. I’ll be back, Angel. Don’t worry… I promise I’ll be back.” She turned, and disappeared into the brush, but her voice floated back, and Angel couldn’t help wagging his tail at her words. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Buffy,” he whispered, somehow knowing she was already gone. But she’d be back. And, more importantly, he knew what was going ON now. Wait until Spike- Uh oh. SPIKE! He’d completely forgotten about his missing Childe in his excitement over seeing Buffy again. And now that the sun was coming up, he could actually SEE now.
And what he saw didn’t look good.
They call it a Burmese Tiger Trap. But it looked like it could conceivably capture any animal unfortunate enough to wander into it. And the disturbed vegetation around the edge of the deep pit showed that some animal had done just that.
A feeling of something Angel could only describe as terror gripped his heart as he slowly moved to the edge of the pit. He prayed silently to Anyone who might listen that he wouldn’t find a dead panther in the bottom. Some Burmese Tiger Traps actually have sharpened spears of bone in the bottom, designed to kill whatever fell in. And the closer he got to the pit, the tighter that icy hand gripped his heart. Images of a panther body, impaled on spears of bone and wood, lying broken in the bottom of the pit, floated through the wolf’s suddenly overactive imagination. By the time he reached the edge of the pit and saw the panther print at the edge, his wolf body was shaking so bad that he was almost in danger of falling into the trap himself.
But the sun hadn’t risen high enough for him to see the bottom of the pit clearly. However, he did smell blood. And a scent that his wolf nose identified as carrion… Dead meat. He laid down on the edge of the pit and called down into it, hoping against hope that he would get an answer. “Spike? Spike, please say something… Spike, I know you’re here… Please…”
But only silence greeted him from the deep hole in the ground. Angel felt lost, a pain unlike anything he’d ever known gripping him tightly. If Spike was dead… If he’d lost his Childe… No. He wouldn’t… It was a DREAM. Spike couldn’t die… Right?
Wolves don’t cry. Their eyes lack true tear ducts. But there is one sound a wolf makes that has been described as one of the most mournful sounds in nature. The howl of a lone wolf. And Angel, overcome by grief and pain, threw his head back and let out a long, low howl that made every creature in the canopy above fall silent. When he followed that with another howl, longer and lower than before, the surrounding creatures stayed silent. No one was willing to disturb the grieving wolf.
And down in the pit, the echoing howls were the first thing two black ears had heard since the body that they were attached to fell unconscious at some point the previous afternoon…
* * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Spike groaned softly, blinking awake slowly. He blinked blearily at his surroundings, and his nose reeled at the scent of the decomposing Duiker near his head. The small body was succumbing to the ravages of decomposition faster than the larger boar carcass had in the days earlier, and the stench in the bottom of the pit was growing. Even if the wolf howl hadn’t startled the unconscious panther awake, the scent would have eventually acted like smelling salts and accomplished the same feat.
He shifted his wounded shoulder and winced at a lingering pain… but it was far different from the piercing pain when the joint had been dislocated. It was back in place, the only pain left the residual aches of distended muscles. He pushed himself into a sitting position, and groaned when the action caused his head to swim. It was quite possible that he had a minor concussion. Not serious enough to be life threatening, but definitely serious enough to give him a hell of a headache.
Raising a paw, he rubbed his head absently, then blinked, realizing what woke him up. A howl. A WOLF howl. “Angel?”
On the edge of the pit, the wolf had been inhaling deeply in preparation for another howl, but the shock of hearing Spike’s voice caused the wolf to choke. His eyes widened and he peered down into the pit. “Spike? Spike, are you okay?” He felt like he was going to howl again, this time out of pure joy. Spike was alive! He was okay! Wasn’t he?
“Bit the worse for wear,” came the panther’s voice. “But I’ll live… Assumin’ I can get out of here before the stench of this bloody duiker chokes me.”
Angel sighed. So THAT was the smell. Not dead panther… Dead duiker. And that meant they again had no food… But Angel didn’t really care. Spike was okay. And he now needed to get his Childe OUT of the hole before whatever made the hole came back to check their trap. For all he knew, it could have been poachers. “Okay… Hang on. I’m gonna find something that we can use to get you out of there… A vine, or something…”
A quiet laugh came from the pit. “Angel, mate, I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t have hands. I can’t climb a rope. See if you can knock a long log or somethin’ down in here. THAT, I can climb.” He blinked. “Oh! And try to get it to the other side from where you are… The side over there slopes. It’ll be easier to climb.”
Angel nodded, then headed into the forest to find a suitable log. After a few minutes, he found a log, and started shoving against it as hard as he could before it finally began to roll. But that presented him with another problem. Now that it was rolling, he needed to find some way to steer… AND some way to STOP the thing before it simply rolled into the pit and crushed his Childe.
He darted around in front of it and skidded to a stop, hopping up onto his hind legs and bracing his front paws against the log, forcing it to stall. That worked. Now to learn how to steer… Moving to one end of the log, he pushed it to get it rolling again, then darted around and pushed the OTHER way on the opposite end. The resulting pull/push action caused the log to turn. And to roll slower. Now that he had it under control, it took another half an hour to steer the long hunk of wood back to the right end of the pit. Then he moved around and pushed hard on the far end, so that the closer end slid down the sloping side of the pit… and created a ladder for the panther. “Okay! Try to climb it now.”
Down in the pit, Spike watched in amazement as the log came slowly down the slope to him. He carefully put his front paws on the wood, and dug his claws in, then began the slow, painful process of pulling himself up the twenty-foot tree. His shoulder screamed in protest, but he pushed on. There’d be plenty of time to rest once he got OUT of the pit. After a few minutes, he reached the top of the log… and was still a good five feet from the top of the pit. “Bloody hell… Back up, Angel. I’m gonna have to jump.”
The wolf backed up obediently, and his eyes widened when the panther leaped out of the pit, his paws scrambling on the muddy ground so that he wouldn’t fall right back in. Without thinking, Angel darted forward and grabbed the scruff of his Childe’s neck in his mouth, stiffening his legs and pulling hard to get the larger, heavier cat to more stable footing. The move was risky, and obviously not well thought out, for if Spike lost control and toppled back into the pit, he would surely drag Angel WITH him this time. And the wolf didn’t have the capabilities to climb the tree, or jump five feet straight up from the top of it. But the risky ploy paid off, and the two animals collapsed near the side of the pit, not too far from where the wolf and jaguar had laid fewer than four hours earlier.
And Angel couldn’t believe how happy he was to see Spike. Before he could stop himself, he was licking at the panther’s ears and trying to wrap his paws around the large cat, almost the same way he had greeted Buffy earlier. And Spike was so shocked at the affectionate actions that he didn’t know what to DO… So he did the first thing that came to mind. He snuggled close to the wolf and mewled under the attentions, arching his back and nuzzling against his Sire, his gold eyes closing in pleasure as the wolf licked at his ears.
Angel’s tail was wagging faster than it had since he began allowing it to do so, and he was mumbling things he was almost certain he’d want to take back later… But for the moment, he didn’t care. “I was so worried, Spike… When I smelled that, I thought… I thought you were gone, and I didn’t know what to do… I never even got to tell you…” He started looking Spike over, though his tongue continued lapping at any patch of panther fur that presented itself. “Are you hurt? You’re okay, right? Can I do anything?”
Spike, for his part, felt as if he were melting. Angel cared. He beyond cared. He was taking CARE of him… being interested, and almost… almost loving. And Spike didn’t know what to do except lay there and let the wolf do whatever he would. “Yeah… Yeah,” he mumbled. “I’m fine, Angel… Really. Shoulder’s a bit sore, n’I have a headache that would kill a moose, but other than that…” Spike almost gasped when Angel whimpered worriedly and placed a paw on his injured shoulder. “THAT would be the sore one, mate…”
Angel winced and moved his paw, licking apologetically at the spot. “Sorry… I didn’t mean… God, Spike, I was so worried.”
The wolf continued fussing over his feline companion for a couple more hours, and he seemed to have forgotten the other person who had shared the jungle with them only a few hours earlier. But, undoubtedly, he would remember her eventually. And what he had to tell Spike.
Though IF he would tell the panther… Well… That remained to be seen.