Angel felt completely lost. The wolf body couldn’t punch. It couldn’t kick, dodge, or jump the way he was used to, during a fight. The legs didn’t even bend the right way, for God’s sake! How could he be expected to defend himself against this insane wild cat if he couldn’t even fight properly? It didn’t make any sense.
He lashed out with his paws, trying to hit the cat, but the panther simply dodged under them and hit the wolf with a blow across the face that sent Angel rolling across the leaf strewn floor of the jungle. And he was now bleeding from the deep claw tracks that slashed deeply across the white fur of his cheek.
And the panther just kept coming.
Spike was in a blind rage. A pain unlike anything he’d ever felt was coursing through his veins. The scent of Angel’s blood was stronger now. Their battle must have been taking them closer to the place where the wolf had killed his Sire. Spike didn’t have to think about how to fight in the new body. The panther’s instincts knew how to use it’s claws, teeth, speed and strength. All Spike did was direct where to aim them.
Angel, on the other hand, was still trying to fight like he normally did. Not very adaptable to new situations, Angel was trying to force the wolf body to do something it wasn’t made to do, rather than working with what he had available. He was used to planning things before he had to act. Training and researching. Not just throwing himself into it and hoping that it would come out right. But in his panic, he was becoming aware of something. The one hit that he had managed to get in against the panther had ripped a notch in one of it’s ears. And he could smell blood.
Blood that smelled like Spike’s blood.
Angel thought fast as he tried to dodge another of the cat’s vicious claw swipes. Here he was, in a jungle, in the body of a wolf. If Spike had been affected in the same way, wouldn’t it be possible that SPIKE was in an animal’s body as well? An animal, such as the panther that was trying to turn him into lunchmeat? It made sense, as much as anything seemed to today. The panther and the wolf… The animals he’d been drawing. If something had magically attached itself to his thoughts… to the picture… and HE was the wolf… Of course. Spike HAD to be the panther!
And he was also trying to kill Angel. Well. That just made SO much sense… Still, he had to try something.
“Spike!”, he cried out, his mental voice mixing with the yips and growls the wolf body gave off. “Spike, stop! It’s me!”
Angel’s voice broke through the murderous haze that had been blinding Spike throughout the whole fight up to this point. Spike blinked the panther’s gold eyes, and froze in place. Which was a good thing, since he had Angel pinned, on his back, and had been ready to tear the wolf’s throat out. “Angel?”, he asked quietly, his head tilting in a very familiar manner as he looked at the bleeding white wolf below him.
Angel breathed a quiet sigh of relief, and just nodded the wolf’s head as Spike backed off and sat down in front of him. He rolled over until his belly pressed to the ground, leaves already sticking to the bloody wound on his leg, as well as the multiple places that Spike had clawed him. He panted, blinking at Spike for a moment before he bothered trying to speak again. “What the hell… were you doing?”, the wolf panted quietly.
Spike actually looked sheepish, if such a word could be used for a panther. “I thought you’d killed… you.” He blinked, then shook his head. “Bugger. That is, I thought the WOLF had killed you… I smelled your blood, mate.”
Angel nodded, forcing himself to sit up, though the wolf’s muscles protested painfully at the motion. Still, he refused to face Spike on the ground like some sort of submissive puppy. “I know… I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad to see you, Spike…”
Spike nodded, giving a low whuffing chuckle from the panther’s throat. “Same here, Peaches. Did you wake up in a tree, too?”
Angel shook his head, and then winced, turning it to look at his wounded leg. The wolf’s instincts were trying to get him to lick it, but he didn’t want to do something that… undignified… in front of Spike. “No. But I woke up with that.”
Spike got up with the same liquid grace he’d been showing since he let the panther’s instincts show him how to use the body, then came over to sniff at the wound. This wasn’t an unheard of action among vampires, so Angel just let the cat behavior go for the moment. “Isn’t pretty, mate… N’It’s caked with dirty leaves now. We have to do somethin’, or it’ll get infected.”
Angel tried to raise an eyebrow at his Childe, but the wolf didn’t exactly HAVE eyebrows, so he settled for giving a soft, sarcastic snort. “And what do you propose we do? Head for the nearest veterinary hospital? We don’t even know where we ARE, Spike.”
Spike shook his head. “No… there’s…” He trailed off, and the panther’s ears laid back on his head in concentration. Angel blinked at the cat’s expression, since he had yet to figure out HOW to make his ears swivel like that, let alone put the action to something as simple as an expression. “I can’t explain it,” Spike muttered finally. “But… I know where somethin’ is that’ll be good for both our wounds… S’a way to walk, though. Up for it?”
Angel growled quietly. That was ONE instinct that wolf and vampire shared. “Do I really have a choice? Lead on, Bageera.”
Spike gave a soft snort, but turned and headed into the jungle, disappearing into the shadows almost instantly, and Angel gave a yip of alarm before following him. If he lost sight of the panther, he’d be lost again. And, wounded as he was, he’d probably be an easy meal for whatever other creatures lived in this strange place. He forced himself into a trot to catch up with Spike… but resisted the urge to grab the panther’s slowly twitching tail in his mouth. That was the wolf talking again, and Angel refused to bow to it’s primitive instincts.
Spike, on the other hand… or was it ‘other paw’, now?… simply kept walking. His ears swiveled slowly, tracking and letting the panther identify almost every sound he heard. Through the eyes of the cat, the jungle was a living thing. Everywhere he looked, there were things that were alive. A lizard, blending into the bark of one of the largest trees he’d ever seen. Monkeys chattering angrily at the two predators on the ground. A flash of dappled gold fur that Spike instantly knew was a Jaguar. It was smaller than he was, however. And while it might have tried to make a meal of Angel if he’d been on his own, the fact that the injured wolf was escorted by a larger feline made the Jaguar give both of them a wide berth.
Scents, too, told of a place alive from the roots of the large trees, to the thousands of birds singing in the canopy. “So this is the Rainforest everyone wants to save,” the panther mused after a short time. “M’beginnin’ to see why.”
Angel just grumbled, the pain wracking his wolf body, and the fact that he was solely focused on not losing track of the panther in front of him making him oblivious to the wonders they were passing. “Far as I’m concerned,” he muttered. “They can bulldoze the damned place and turn it into a strip mall.”
Spike turned his head to blink at the injured wolf, then just shook his head. “You’re a bloody bitch when you’re hurt, you know that?”
Angel just growled in response.
* * * * * * * *
Some time later, they approached the edge of a slow flowing river, and Spike stopped, the panther’s instincts letting him know that THIS was the place they were looking for. “We’re here.”
Angel, by this time, was incredibly thirsty. So whether or not the river held any way to help soothe his wounds didn’t even matter. He limped forward and lowered his head, trying to figure out how one would go about getting a drink as a wolf. He dipped his tongue into the water, and then pulled it out, but only a few drops made it to his parched throat. Frustrated, he tried again, only to get the same result.
Spike, in the meantime, was crouching not too far away and slowly, SUCCESSFULLY, lapping up a bit of the river water. Again, being in tune with the panther’s instincts was paying off for Spike, where Angel was only pissing himself off. After a moment, Spike sat on the bank and watched Angel try to drink, an amused look on the panther’s face. “Want some help, mate?”
Angel growled, trying for what had to have been the twentieth time to get some water, and muttered, “No. I don’t. I’m FINE.”
Spike gave another soft, whuffing chuckle, and let his tail lazily twitch where it was curled comfortably around his paws. He raised one paw, and started absently licking the pads, then smoothing them over his injured ear in a classic feline grooming motion.
Angel was now just angry. With a snarl, he started smacking the water with his front paws, and trying desperately to snap at the splashes that caused, just to actually GET some water in his mouth. What he didn’t see, however, was that his splashing was very like what would be caused by a stranded animal that had wandered into the water and gotten stuck in the mud.
And it was attracting the attention of what appeared to be a very large log floating nearby. That is, it could’ve been a log, if it weren’t for the two reptilian eyes that poked up above the surface of the water. With a slow, silent swish of it’s four-foot long tail, the giant crocodile started toward the shore. Anyone looking with just their eyes would have only seen what appeared to be a mostly submerged log slowly floating toward the splashing wolf.
But Spike wasn’t looking with just his eyes.
The panther’s ears flipped up suddenly as the jungle around them fell silent, except for Angel’s growling and splashing. The monkeys stopped chattering. The birds stopped calling. Even the wind itself seemed to stop blowing. It made the fur down Spike’s back stand on end.
The panther stood up slowly, and swooshed his tail once in slow motion. Raising his whiskered snout, he drew in several deep breaths. He could smell everything. The panther’s sense of smell was actually better than his usual vampiric sense of smell, for the sole reason that a vampire’s sense of smell is tuned mainly to one thing. Blood. But for the panther, blood was only one of a myriad of things it could use to locate and capture it’s prey. Spike smelled the trees. The droppings of many different animals. Most of which, if he had lingered on the scent for long, he would’ve been able to identify. He smelled the water of the river, Angel’s blood, his own blood, and the pungent scent of the very dirt and mud around them… And he smelled the foul stench of rotten meat. A scent only created by decaying particles of flesh trapped in the jaws of some large carnivore. It was the scent of death. And it had a reptilian tang to it… The little bit of scent that just the creature’s snout and eyes gave off, but it was enough for the panther’s instincts to identify the threat.
Now Spike began to look with his eyes. And it didn’t take long for him to spot the jaws of death that were closing in on his oblivious Sire. With only moments to act, Spike gathered himself and leaped with all his panther’s strength, just as the cavernous jaws exploded from the water, intending to pull the now terrified wolf under and drown him.
It was only a matter of which predator would reach Angel first.