Exit – Chapter 13

Chapter 12

Buffy growled quietly to herself, pacing at the foot of her bed. It had been almost a week since her last Guiding dream had revealed to her the wolf Angel. And she continually was cursing herself for NOT asking him who the panther WAS. She couldn’t believe she’d forgotten. And now her Guide was refusing to let her go BACK to talk to him again. She’d PROMISED she’d be back… She’d been having those damned dreams almost every NIGHT… until she found out that the wolf was Angel. Now her Guide wasn’t even putting in an appearance.

She’d spoken to Giles about it, but all her Watcher had to offer was that it was most likely ANGEL that had drawn her into that world, and the fact that she’d simply seen the nameless panther first was just some kind of painful coincidence. But Buffy refused to believe that. If being the Slayer had taught her one thing… Besides that life tends to suck, of course… It had taught her that most things happen for a reason. She simply couldn’t accept that the Spike-like panther had simply been a method of reuniting her with her first love.

And yet, until her Guide decided to make another appearance, she had no choice but to wait. And to worry.

Who knew what could happen to two animals alone in a jungle?

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In a jungle, near a river, a black panther laid motionless on his side. One paw was over his eyes, and his body was deathly still. Not even the tip of his long tail twitched. His side barely moved with his breathing, but that was the only thing that indicated that the dark creature was even still among the living. Rather thin, his ribs were beginning to show through his black coat. Hunting hadn’t been good recently, and it was taking it’s toll on the once magnificent creature. All alone in the world, the panther would most likely starve to death within the next few days.

Not too far away, two soft brown eyes peered at the panther, and a wolf, his coat once again white, stepped out of the shadows, dragging the back half of a whistling deer carcass from it’s jaws. The wolf slowly approached the panther, and gave a soft ‘woof’ to get it’s attention. The panther blinked at the wolf, then at the food the strange animal carried. Forcing itself to sit up, it slowly accepted the offering from the wolf, as the canine slowly backed away and disappeared into the underbrush.

Angel sighed quietly to himself as he made his way back to his and Spike’s camp, where the other half of the deer corpse rested. It was so sad how quickly things could turn from bad to worse for people, or animals. As he slipped out of the brush again, farther upstream and in more familiar surroundings, he couldn’t help but ‘smile’, however.

Spike, in far better condition than the other panther down the river, was lounging in the sun by the deer corpse. They’d spotted the other panther while they were hunting that morning, and both felt a pang of recognition. The previous week since Angel had rescued his feline companion from the pit that had almost become his grave, neither had been in good enough condition to hunt. Near starving, they’d finally wound up braving the large crocodile’s territory in an attempt to catch fish. The gamble paid off, and soon the fish’s protein rich bodies were providing them with the sustenance they needed to heal. A few days earlier, they had finally gone hunting… Together, for the first time since they got there, and found that two heads… and two toothy jaws, are far better than one. There was a small population of whistling deer in the jungle, and while the animals were far too big for either of them working alone to hope to bring down, the two together had made a sizeable kill on their first try. And on every try since then.

However, that morning, they’d seen the other panther… The only other cat besides the Jaguar that they’d seen in the jungle… And this one was obviously in trouble. Old and feeble, it couldn’t hunt anymore, and it’s body was slowly giving out. Angel and Spike had agreed that half of their next kill should go to that panther… If only to make his final hours a bit more comfortable. Angel had been elected to deliver the food, for the sole reason that the sight of another panther… and one far younger and in much better condition than itself, might actually scare the dying panther. So the wolf had gone to be the delivery boy.

Angel stretched slowly as he walked over to where his companion was laying on his back in a sunbeam. The wolf smirked to himself, walking silently over to his Childe. Spike was FAR too relaxed… He’d have to do something about that.

Sneaking closer, the wolf dropped into a crouch, the same motion he used for hunting, and stalked toward the dozing panther. His eyes were fixed on the soft spot in the middle of his Childe’s stomach, and he couldn’t stop his tail from wagging slowly behind him as he crept toward the panther. The moment he was close enough, the wolf pounced… and started tickling his Childe with his paws, kneading at the panther’s sensitive tummy.

Spike made a screeching sound that scared every creature in the above canopy, and even made the fearsome crocodile duck underwater… then he broke into helpless whuffing laughter, shoving at the wolf with his paws. “Gerroff! Ahh! Angel! Stop!”

Angel just laughed and kept kneading, until the panther managed to flip them, and the two animals went rolling down the riverbank, both laughing now.

Ever since Spike’s rescue from the tiger trap, the two had started playing like this often. Tugging on each other’s ears or tails, swatting and wrestling with each other until both were exhausted, or covered in mud. It was fun, as well as serving as a way of strengthening their Sire/Childe bond. When Angel thought back on the way he’d treated Spike only a few weeks earlier, he felt what could only be described as shame. His Childe HAD been trying to get close to him, but Angel had only pushed him away. It had taken the realization that he could’ve lost Spike, to finally show him how much he really cared for the younger vampire.

The realization had started when Spike had risked his own life diving to save Angel from the crocodile on their first day in the jungle. Discovering that Spike cared enough about HIM to do that had stirred something deep within the older vampire. The next turning point had been the way Spike put up with his… Bitchy-ness, after being injured. Spike was obviously frustrated with him, but he didn’t let it show. Every night, he had changed the wolf’s makeshift bandages, licking at his ears to distract him from the painful way the dried mud pulled at his wounds and the fur surrounding them. Every night, he’d curled his larger panther body around the shivering wolf to keep him warm. And slowly, Angel began to realize that Spike really did care.

Then came the moment that it hit Angel that he could’ve lost his Childe in that pit. That was enough to push him finally into full Sire mode. Spike was under his protection from now on… He wasn’t going to let anything happen to the panther. And while he didn’t know if he’d risk his own life for Spike yet… And hoped he’d never have to find out… He DID know that he’d do almost anything to help his companion.

And yet, throughout all of that, the wolf still hadn’t told the panther who their mutual acquaintance in the jungle really was. In fact, Angel hadn’t even MENTIONED the Jaguar to Spike since getting him out of the pit. Partially, it was for selfish reasons. Angel liked being the only one who knew that Buffy was there. And while he had told Spike what Buffy told HIM about them being in a mutual Guide dream, he hadn’t explained how he’d arrived at that conclusion… Or how he knew that they’d only be stuck there another week at most. Spike had been frustrated at first, but he had eventually just accepted what his Sire told him. It wasn’t like he had too many other options.

Tired from their play, the wolf and panther had settled down near the remains of their dinner, but Angel was still absently chewing on one of Spike’s ears. The panther, however, was purring softly and keeping his head tilted, as the wolf’s teeth actually felt quite good. He stretched lazily, and swished his tail, feeling the comfortable weight of Angel’s front end propped up on his shoulders. The wolf sighed softly and finally released his companion’s ear, only to rest his chin atop the panther’s furry head, the two just resting comfortably against each other.

“Angel?”, Spike mumbled after awhile, his yellow eyes drifting closed.

“Yeah?”

“I know this is a dream, n’all, but I still don’t get the Guide thing… Or why we have to be gone two weeks.”

Angel shook his head, nuzzling his chin against the top of his Childe’s head. “Can’t explain it… I just heard something about it from someone.”

Spike sighed. “Most likely Wes,” he mumbled.

Angel cleared his throat. “Yeah… Something like that.”

Spike rolled his eyes upward, but he couldn’t see the wolf dozing against him without moving… and he was far too comfortable to move, so he just settled down again. “And the Guide thing?”

Angel licked lazily at a bit of Spike’s fur that was sticking up, mumbling, “Everyone is born with an animal Guide. Call it what you will. Sprit Guide, Guiding Animal, etc. People have them from the moment they’re born. But in the last five hundred years, people have stopped trying to deliberately contact their Guides. The Native Americans might still do it, but not many others bother. However, Slayers, and just about anyone who can be labeled a Warrior, Hunter, or Champion, has a tendency to connect with their Guide whether they want to or not.”

The wolf paused for a moment, considering how to phrase the rest of this, then started again. “Buffy always told me that I had a Guide, and that she knew what it was… But I would never let her tell me. I didn’t like the idea of some animal giving me directions on my life. I still don’t.”

Spike chuckled. “So THAT’S why you were so weird ‘bout listening to your wolf instincts that first week.”

Angel nodded, taking his Childe’s ear back into his mouth and chewing gently. “Yeah. I feel like an idiot now, though. All the wolf’s been trying to do all along is HELP me… I realized that Guides are just that… They’re GUIDES. They aren’t dictators. It’s up to you whether or not you decide to take their advice. And I figure, in this world, the wolf knows better than I do.”

Spike purred a bit louder and tilted his head for Angel again, closing his eyes and letting his tail fuzz out behind him. “Good. ‘Cause I was getting tired of havin’ to rescue you every time you tried to get a drink.”

Angel made a face and gave the panther ear in his mouth a playful tug. “Remind me again who fell into a PIT?”

Spike snorted. “One time thing. I’m bein’ more careful where I step from now on.” He yawned quietly, and rolled onto his side, partially dislodging the wolf from his back, and blinked up at his Sire. “You know… when this dream ends, I’m gonna be kind of sad. I’ve gotten used to this place…To these bodies, even.”

Angel nodded, laying down next to his panther companion and snuggling against the cat’s warm tummy. “Never thought I’d say this, but I agree with you. There are a lot of things we can do here that just… I doubt we’ll be able to continue doing back in the real world.”

Spike sighed and looked at the wolf. “Like this, you mean?”, he said quietly. “Just… layin’ together. Relaxing. We won’t be able to play anymore, either.”

Angel sighed, but didn’t open his eyes. “That’s not true. We can always tell people that it’s just a Sire/Childe thing. Most likely, that’d get them to leave us alone.”

“Except for Wesley. You know he did his senior thesis in Watcher School ‘bout the relationships between Sires and Childeren.”

The wolf gave a quiet growl. “We’ll deal with him if he bothers us. If he doesn’t, then I’m just going to ignore him.” He licked at the fur of Spike’s tummy, making the panther arch a little bit and purr louder. “I’m not letting anything come between us again. I don’t want things to go back the way they were.”

Spike relaxed more than he had since they started this conversation. Even he couldn’t believe how soothing it was to know that Angel WASN’T going to go back to ignoring him and pushing him away when they got back. Finally, his presence at Wolfram & Hart would be justified. More than justified… He was WANTED. And it was his Sire who wanted him. Without thinking, he wrapped his paws around the wolf and hugged the smaller predator tight to him, making Angel give a quiet yip of surprise… followed by an almost mewl of contentment. Spike’s actions had pulled him comfortably against the panther’s tummy and chest, giving him a perfect place to snuggle.

Angel would’ve purred, had he been a cat, or had his normal body. But as it was, he just closed his eyes and relaxed. “Goodnight, Spike,” he mumbled quietly.

“G’night, Angel,” the panther responded quietly, closing his eyes as well and settling down for the night. Really, in some ways, this was even better than what he’d planned when they’d set out to go see Buffy originally. The only thing that could make this better was if Buffy had been there, too.

But even Spike realized that was something that was quite a long shot.

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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Buffy paced at the end of her bed impatiently. She’d done the Guide ritual, to FORCE a Guiding dream from her Jaguar… And had gotten her cougar, instead. Sometimes having two Guides was just annoying. To make matters worse, she couldn’t force another dream for a month… The drain on her Guide would’ve been too much.

The Slayer sighed. She was completely exhausted by now. Jaguar or not, she was going to have to get some sleep. Muttering to herself, she crawled back into bed, giving up on ever getting back to that jungle and seeing Angel… or the mysterious panther again.

But sometimes, giving up tends to trigger things that can’t be forced. As if sensing that she was ready, when Buffy opened her eyes, she found herself in her Jaguar’s body, standing at the edge of a clearing by a river. And in the clearing lay an eaten half of a deer carcass, and the softly snoring forms of Angel… and the panther.

Buffy blinked, starting toward them, then she stopped herself. They looked so comfortable… It made her feel a bit confused, though. She KNEW the panther was male… Maybe the two were just snuggling like that for warmth. It WAS a bit cold, there. She decided that she’d ask Angel about it in the morning. Slowly, she slipped up beside the sleeping pair, and laid down next to the wolf. The night was almost over, and if she slept in her Guide body, she’d most likely wake up when the other two animals did.

Maybe then she could get some answers.

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A mile or so away, deep in the jungle, another kind of hunter crouched. A powerful rifle laid on the ground near him, as the human stared at the mesh of pawprints near his carefully prepared trap. There was a dead Duiker in the bottom of the pit, and a log pushed down into it. A log with panther claw marks on it. And all around the edge of the pit were the prints of a Jaguar, a panther… and a wolf. The hunter furrowed his brow in confusion, then picked up his gun.

Wolves don’t belong in this type of forest. He knew that. And that meant that this one was incredibly rare… And that made valuable. Almost as valuable as the panther and Jaguar.

A slow smile crossed the man’s weather-beaten face. This would be a good day to hunt.

Chapter 14