Exit – Chapter 8

Chapter 7

Near a river, in the middle of the Jungle of God Knows Where, a white wolf was laying on a pile of decaying leaves. The wolf’s fur was grayed from dirt, mud, and blood. Mud was caked over several areas on it’s body, covering and protecting the wounds beneath it’s crusted exterior. The wolf was snoring very quietly, but it’s ears were unconsciously swiveling around atop it’s head, tracking the sounds of early morning birds and other animals that were frolicking in the canopy above.

The wolf shivered, the dampness of the dewy morning starting to sink through it’s thick coat. Not too long ago, it had felt warm and safe, but a short while earlier, the panther that had been laying at it’s side had gotten up to go in search of food. Now the cold was beginning to take it’s toll on the injured wolf, but he was stubborn. Exhausted, he wasn’t going to allow something as simple as a little cold to pull him out of his comforting slumber, as he dreamed of a small, blonde woman… And a Black Panther.

* * * * * * * *

Spike slowly stalked through the trees, moving in utter silence. Below him, the gold-coated Jaguar was stalking a family of wild boars. Spike didn’t feel like doing the work it would take to bring down one of the large pigs himself, especially since he’d gotten a good look at the tusks the porkers possessed, but if the Jaguar would make a kill, Spike was prepared to steal it.

He’d left Angel about half an hour earlier, and had been careful to mark his trail as he went along, so he’d be able to find the most direct route back to his canine companion. But since he’d been following the Jaguar, he hadn’t been marking the trail. For the sole reason that the scent would surely attract the other cat’s attention, and most likely lose him their breakfast in the process. But, unlike Angel, he trusted his body’s instincts. The panther knew the way back to that river, and it’s unwavering confidence gave Spike the assurance he needed to allow himself to concentrate on the task at hand, rather than worrying about how he was going to get back later.

He crouched down and flexed his claws, watching the Jaguar moving below. She reminded him a bit of Buffy, he mused silently. The way she would slowly stalk her prey for as long as it took to assure herself that her kill would be quick and clean. The way she was so focused on her prey that he could stalk her in silence without ever worrying about being noticed. And then there were her eyes.

Most Jaguars have gold or orange eyes. Not all that different from the panther’s eyes. But this Jaguar’s eyes were green, and held an intelligence that Spike couldn’t help but find himself fascinated with. She was focused, and powerful. Vicious, yet smooth. She was an example of feline excellence, Spike was sure of it. He’d never seen another cat so intent on it’s prey. And had certainly never seen a cat stalk something for as long as this Jaguar was taking to set up her ambush. Her patience alone was enough to awe the panther.

And he could feel the strike coming. The unsuspecting mother boar and her piglets had walked into a perfect natural trap. The enticing grass had led them into what basically amounted to a box canyon. On three sides, there were fallen, rotting logs. Much too big for the swine to ever hope to jump over. And at the entrance to this trap, the Jaguar was hiding in the foliage. All her hard work and patient stalking was about to pay off.

But that was when she made her first mistake.

One paw stepped wrong, and a stick cracked. The noise almost sounded like a gunshot in the nearly silent area of jungle the cats and pigs were in. Then the canopy erupted into an angry chorus of screeches and howls, as the monkeys, who until now hadn’t noticed either cat, suddenly saw the Jaguar.

The mother boar snorted and raised her head, calling her piglets to gather behind and under her as she turned to face the Jaguar, her tusks gleaming. She pawed the ground defiantly and squealed a challenge to the cat.

The Jaguar, having no desire to be gored, turned to disappear into the underbrush. But that was her second mistake. Turning her back on the mother boar. Because the pig, enraged that the cat would even dare to get THAT close to her piglets, decided to charge.

The female Jaguar turned back around, but the pig was already too close.

But it didn’t count on there being a second cat in the area.

Spike let out a blood-curdling roar, and leaped from the trees. His full weight slammed into the mother boar, and his claws dug deep into it’s flesh, ripping at the screaming animal as he fit his mouth around the back of it’s neck and sank his fangs in deeply. Within an instant, the boar stopped struggling.

The piglets, smaller than the mother boar, had scattered in all different directions, pushing their way under and around the rotting logs that had trapped their mother. Spike absently realized that, without their mother, the piglets probably wouldn’t survive the next night. But that wasn’t his problem. What WAS his problem was the Jaguar that was now mere inches from him.

Spike swallowed, releasing the limp body of the boar, and stepped away from it. The Jaguar seemed confused by his actions, and didn’t move to take the pig, or to walk away from it. If anything, she appeared to be sizing him up. Green eyes locked on gold, and the two cats stared at each other for a long moment. Spike slowly swished his tail. He was bigger, and stronger, and would most likely win in a fight. But he didn’t want to fight the Jaguar. And she didn’t seem to want to fight him, either. If anything, she simply seemed confused by his rescuing her. And he didn’t have to think very hard to figure out why.

Cats in the wild are solitary animals, with the exception of lions. All other species tend to come together only during mating season, then go their separate ways, most likely never to see each other again. Even during a mating season, it wouldn’t really be a normal thing for one cat to save another’s life. Especially not two different species. In fact, the panther’s instincts had gone completely against what Spike had just done. If the boar had killed the Jaguar, he would’ve been able to eat her. And if the Jaguar had won the fight, he would’ve easily been able to steal the boar’s carcass from the undoubtedly wounded Jaguar.

But Spike was SPIKE, first and foremost. He’d always known when to trust his instincts, and when to completely defy them. Up until this point, the panther had been right about everything. But this time, it had been wrong. It might not have had a moral code, but Spike did. And Spike was the one in control. Saving the Jaguar had been the right thing to do.

And now, the right thing to do was to walk away, and leave her the boar that had nearly killed her. So that’s what Spike started to do.

He backed away from the Jaguar, far enough to ensure himself that he was out of her pouncing range, then turned to walk away. But he was stopped by a quiet whuffing sound from behind him. The vampire turned panther stopped in his tracks, and slowly swiveled his head around to look back at the Jaguar.

She had her jaws around the boar’s leg, and was attempting to drag it in his direction, making the quiet whuffing sounds the whole time.

Spike tilted his head, then slowly came back over to the Jaguar. He made a low, rumbling sound, and seized the pig’s other leg in his mouth, waiting until the Jaguar let go of hers… then he swung his head and gracefully allowed the pig’s body to drape over his back. The boar was nearly as big as the Jaguar herself. She never would’ve been able to move it on her own. And, to make things a tad more interesting, she seemed almost happy that he had accepted what she obviously meant as a gift.

Spike just stood there, blinking at the other feline, until SHE started to turn and leave. Now it was his turn to call her back. “Wait,” he said quietly, and was amazed to hear the same whuffing sound the Jaguar had made earlier come out of his panther mouth.

The Jaguar stopped, turning her head to blink back at him. It was then that something clicked in Spike’s mind. The Jaguar and Panther are very close cousins. It would make sense that they would share a partially common language. It also made sense that the sounds his panther mouth made in response to his mental words would BE the panther equivalent of what he was saying silently.

In other words, he could TALK to the Jaguar.

“Look, luv,” he said quietly, the new realization making him a bit bolder, and he took a step toward the Jaguar, careful to keep the boar’s body balanced on his back. “There’s plenty of meat here for both of us… N’for my friend back at the river. Why don’t you come back with me? We can share, n’you can be on your way. Debt repaid. How does that sound?”

The Jaguar blinked her emerald green eyes at the panther… then slowly fell into step beside him as they started back for the river. Invitation accepted.

“Now all I gotta figure out is how to explain this to Angel…”

* * * * * * * *

“Are you COMPLETELY insane?!”, Angel snarled at the panther. “She’s a JAGUAR. She could eat both of us! She could eat ME!!”

The wolf and panther were several yards away from where the female Jaguar lay near the boar’s body. She’d had no qualms about taking the parts she wanted the moment Spike had put the dead animal down back at the ‘camp’ by the river, and was now sitting calmly next to the ripped open corpse, licking the blood off her paws and fangs. She didn’t seem fazed at all by the snarls, growls, and low howls that the injured wolf was spitting at Spike, nor by the wolf’s presence. In fact, she’d basically ignored the canine since she and Spike had returned to the river. But that hadn’t stopped Angel from seeing the potential danger this gold furred feline could cause.

Spike sighed and shook his head. “For the fourth time, mate. She just ATE. And she offered me the boar. What was I supposed to do? Just take it and leave her there? She takes a LONG time stalkin’ her prey, Angel. She never would’ve brought down another animal before sunset.”

Angel growled quietly. “I respect your compassion for her, Will. It’s admirable, even. But she is DANGEROUS. Did you SEE how she ripped into that pig? What if she decides to do that to one of us while we’re asleep!”

“She won’t,” Spike said quietly, and the assurance in his ‘voice’ made Angel pause in his tirade.

“How can you be so sure?”, Angel finally asked, exhaustion starting to take it’s toll on the wolf again, as he laid back down and regarded the panther with intelligent brown eyes, full of worry.

Spike just shrugged, and looked at where the Jaguar was now taking a nap in the sun near the riverbank. “Because I just know. She owes me her life, Angel… She isn’t just some dumb animal. I don’t know how to explain it, but… I almost feel like I KNOW her.”

Angel just sighed, finally giving in. “If she comes close to me,” he muttered. “Or even looks like she’s CONSIDERING biting or clawing me, I just hope I survive to say ‘I told you so’.”

Spike smiled as best the panther body could, and leaned down to give Angel a playful lick on top of the head, which the wolf quickly recoiled from, sputtering. “Thanks, mate. N’just to show you how right I am ‘bout this, I’m gonna go bring you somethin’ to eat.”

Without waiting for Angel’s response, Spike trotted over to the boar and grabbed a large hunk of thigh muscle in his mouth, ripping and tearing at it until it came loose from the bone. Then he carried the hunk, almost as large as his head, over to Angel and laid it in front of the sulking wolf. “There you go, Peaches. Dinner’s served.”

Angel sighed and regarded the hunk of raw, bloody meat on the ground in front of his nose. Reluctantly, he latched his jaws onto it, holding it still with his paws, and began ripping off hunks and swallowing them whole. “For the record?”, he mumbled around the meat in his mouth. “I’m going to be extremely happy when we get back to where the only part of a pig we have to eat is the blood.”

Spike just chuckled, and headed over to the carcass to rip off his own dinner.

The Jaguar, surprisingly, chose to stay with them that night. Spike, trying to make Angel feel safer, laid down between the wolf and Jaguar, though she was actually several yards away from them. And, as the panther dozed off, intelligent green eyes regarded him interestedly.

He reminded her of someone.

Chapter 9