Angel groaned quietly. Something told him that opening his eyes was a bad thing. Pain shot from his right leg when he tried to move it, and he felt uncomfortably hot. Almost as if he had a fever. But, of course, that was impossible. Vampires don’t get fevers unless they’re poisoned. And the last thing he remembered was being on the plane with Spike, and drawing. Nothing there to poison him.
Unless… He growled quietly to himself suddenly. Spike. Of course. It had all been a plot by the younger vampire. Entice him with thoughts of seeing Buffy again, lull him into a false sense of security, then… Then…
Spike had been asleep as well, the last Angel remembered. And he certainly hadn’t seemed to be plotting anything. If anything, he’d seemed quite relaxed in Angel’s presence. As if the older vampire were a comfort to him. Moral support. And, after all, that’s what Angel was supposed to be, wasn’t he? He was there as much for Spike as he was for Buffy, whether or not he’d admit it to himself. He’d felt Spike’s nervousness, every time they spoke of the Slayer. Smelled the twinge of worry and fear that seemed to hover around Spike like a cloud, even though Angel was relatively sure that Spike had no clue that he was projecting like that.
But, back to the present.
Angel drew in a slow, unnecessary breath, then pushed himself slowly to his feet.
Or, rather, he tried to.
For some strange reason, he couldn’t seem to push himself upright. No matter how hard he pressed his palms to the strange, mossy ground he’d found himself resting on, or how hard he arched his back and tried to get up, he always fell back forward. As if his center of balance was badly off, or his legs were bending the wrong way. And it didn’t help that he could feel blood slowly running down his right leg.
Okay, he thought to himself. Now I HAVE to open my eyes… Something really isn’t right here. The pain, he could deal with, but this strange problem of being unable to get to his feet was just too disturbing for him to keep his eyes closed any longer.
Slowly, he forced eyes that didn’t want to open, open, and blinked in shock. He was in the middle of a forest… No. Not forest. It was too thick to be a forest, and the trees didn’t smell right. Everything was wet and green, and the odd calls he’d been forcing to the back of his head from the moment he regained consciousness were slowly flooding his senses. Animals, he realized. And no animal that was native to LA, or anywhere he could think of between LA and France. In fact, they sounded like…
“Monkeys?!”, he muttered to himself incredulously, then his eyes widened and he spoke again, this time louder. “I’m in a jungle, I can hear monkeys.. and… and WHAT is that strange noise I’m making?!”, he yelped. Literally. He could hear his own voice, but… under it. Beyond it and wrapping around it, he could hear barks. Yaps and growls. Like a dog, or…
No. It couldn’t be. He wouldn’t believe it.
And yet… he felt his eyes drawn down to where he thought his hands rested on the ground. But instead of hands, he saw white furred paws.
Angel screamed, and the wolf body he inhabited howled in anguish.
* * * * * * * *
Meanwhile, Spike was slowly crawling toward the trunk of the tree he’d awakened in, digging the dark, black claws that flexed and extended from the panther body’s paws into the bark of the tree. He muttered to himself and studiously ignored the growls and hisses that his body made in response to his words.
“Oh bugger,” he muttered, and the growl he emitted was partially intentional. “Okay. Takin’ stock, here. I’m a black panther… In a REALLY high tree… In the middle of a jungle… And I have no bloody idea how I got here.”
He gave a quiet snort. “That about covers it. Hell. Why did I EVER think this trip was a good idea? If Angel could see me-” He froze, even as he mentally completed that sentence. “ANGEL! Oh no… I gotta find ‘im…”
He reached the trunk and dug his claws into it, then tried to climb down slowly, back legs first. He knew that wasn’t the way a panther was supposed to climb, but no matter what he did, he couldn’t bring himself to go down headfirst. Spike always had a touch of acrophobia, and, while he’d mostly banished it after he was turned, it tended to rear it’s head when he was already distressed or worried about something. Or afraid. And he was plenty afraid right then.
“One paw after the other… Make sure you have a good hold before movin’ on… That’s it… Here we go. I’m climbin’…” He focused on breathing, unsure if the panther body needed to breathe, or whether it was a vampire as he was normally, but he wasn’t taking any chances.
Halfway down the tree, he crawled out onto another branch to rest, muscles aching and nerves very nearly shot. It was then that he heard one of the most terrifying sounds he’d ever heard in his life.
A scream, one he recognized as Angel… and, mixed with it, the howl of a hungry wolf.
It didn’t occur to him that wolves, as a rule, don’t live in jungles. It also didn’t occur to him that, in response to the sound, he’d pushed himself up on all fours and leaped from the tree branch. It did occur to him, however, when he found himself hurtling through the air like a black furred missile.
“Ahhhhh!!!”, he screamed, and, in response, the instincts of the panther took over suddenly, and he landed almost delicately on the branch of another tree, then took off again. Soon, he was bounding through the trees with all the agility and grace of any natural born panther. “Hang on, mate!”, he shouted, the panther’s roar mixing with it. “I’m comin’!”
* * * * * * * *
Angel, meanwhile, was in a state of panic. His normal calm broken by the very, VERY extenuating circumstances, the pain in his leg… And the fact that he possessed a tail.
“No… no no no no no…”, he muttered to himself, turning in tight circles and watching the white, fluffy tail that was constantly retreating in front of his black wolf’s nose. “I am NOT a wolf. I’m dreaming. I’m still sleeping on that plane… Yeah. That’s it. I’m still asleep. Completely asleep. Having the worst, most realistic nightmare of my life. That’s all. I’m just asle-”
Suddenly, a panther roar cut through the jungle, silencing the monkeys, birds, and other fauna that littered the canopy above him. Angel felt his whole body stiffen, and the fur raised down his back like grass blowing in the wind. His ears laid back and he faced the direction the roar came from, staggering when the motion made him put weight on his wounded leg. “I’m not asleep,” he mumbled to himself, swallowing, as the black panther, nearly twice his size leaped from the trees and faced him, gleaming fangs bared. “And I’m going to die.”
Spike didn’t see Angel, but he could smell blood. And he could see the wolf standing in front of him. The wolf was almost pure white, brown eyes shining intelligently in a face that would’ve been quite handsome, if he wasn’t relatively sure that his Sire’s dust was drifting around because of this horrible creature. Spike’s ears flipped back, and he let out a bloodcurdling roar, then launched himself at the wolf. The two animals met in a clash of claws and fangs, as the jungle around them erupted with the screeches and calls of the frightened prey animals that filled the trees around them.