Angel snarled, sitting up and ignoring the still painful twinge of his ribs. He’d woken up to discover the most disgusting ‘gift’ yet. Half… That’s right, HALF, of a dead rat. On his pillow.
It looked like it had been killed in a rat-trap, actually. Snapped in half as sometimes happens with those powerful springs, so the cat hadn’t killed this one… and at least it wasn’t accompanied by blood on his sheets this time… The stupid little animal had scavenged it. And worst of all, it was the FRONT half of the rat, so it didn’t have a tail for Angel to pick it up by. And he was LONG out of the habit of catching rats for food. His reaction to them now was quite human. He got the screaming willies, complete with goose-bumps and a slight wave of nausea. Especially when there was HALF a RAT on his PILLOW.
“Where are you, you disgusting little freak?!”, the vampire snarled, getting up to get away from the half corpse on his bed, and also to KILL that stinking little thing the moment he found it. “I don’t care how ‘cute’ the others think you are. You’re well enough to go to that shelter now. And you are ON your WAY, the MOMENT I find you. I’ll throw you out the window in the direction of the place…”
He stalked around his bedroom, but, unusually, the cat was nowhere to be seen. He smirked. Fine. He knew how to make it come out. All he had to do was go in the kitchen and turn on the can opener. That always brought it running…
His brow furrowed slightly when the cat failed to come, but then he shrugged. Anger was ebbing away. He had work to do, after all. He could always catch the cat later. It wasn’t like it was ever hard to FIND. It always just showed up wherever he was. It had for weeks, now.
He put the food down on the floor anyway, out of habit, and gave one more look around, but the cat didn’t show itself. Angel rolled his eyes and headed into his closet to perform the now habitual ritual of shaking the cat hair off his clothes before he got dressed. He checked his shoes carefully, but didn’t find any trace of hairballs, so he finished getting ready and headed for his elevator. An absent glance in the kitchen told him that the cat’s food was still there… Which, he noted, was odd. But maybe the dumb little thing had FINALLY had enough to eat.
He got in the elevator, most of his mind focused on the day of work ahead. He had a quasi-Summit meeting with several demon heads… Yeah. That’s literal. This species was nothing but disembodied heads. Freaky? Yes. But another day at the office for the CEO of Wolfram & Hart, LA chapter. However, a tiny part of his thoughts remained focused on the strangely absent feline. It wasn’t in the elevator, either… He gave a mental shrug. Someone probably came up and got it in the middle of the night. It wasn’t like the cat didn’t have other ways of getting in and out of his room… though he really had no CLUE what they were, but he knew for a fact that his suite did not, and had never had, rodents of any kind. So it had to be going somewhere to get them, and that meant it could leave the suite. Which was fine. He wanted it away from him. The further, the better.
He stepped out of the elevator and into his office, heading for his desk. Automatically, he reached down to move the cat out of the chair… But the small ball of fur wasn’t there. And the leather of the chair was colder than it had been since the animal had been staying there. Momentarily, Angel paused. Where was that thing, anyway? Probably off throwing up on something expensive, or shredding his sheets… Oh. He’d forgotten to throw away the rat half on his pillow… Oh well. Maybe the cat would eat it, or whatever it did with the other half.
The day proceeded as normally as any day at Wolfram & Hart, except for the one thing Angel had been taking for granted for the last nearly two months. The cat just wasn’t there. He watched the doorway intently, subconsciously, every time it opened, but the black and white streak never shot through the opening. Intelligent green eyes were absent from his desk, and the table behind it. The food in the corner of his office was untouched, and the water bowl was as full as it had been the night before. A small catnip mouse Fred had bought for the cat lay forlornly in the center of the floor, where the small cat had exhausted itself playing with it only a few days earlier.
Slowly, as the day wore on, the subconscious thoughts began to make their way into the front of Angel’s mind. He wasn’t worried about the cat, per say… It was more like a ‘God, what can it possibly be getting into NOW?’ feeling. But it was still there. If he only knew where the stupid thing was, he could relax. As it was, he stayed tense all day, turning over and over the possibilities of what that dumb animal could be doing to his belongings for this long…
Where WAS it? What was it DOING? And, most importantly, WHEN would he find out?
Spike was saying something. There were words. Angel snapped out of his reverie… He hadn’t even realized his mind had wandered. “What?”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “I asked what the hell you were thinkin’ about, mate… You were just starin’ over at Tux’s food bowl, like it was the most interestin’ thing in the world.”
Angel blinked. “I was?” He shook his head when Spike nodded, then it occurred to him. Maybe SPIKE knew where that stupid cat had been all day. “Spike… Have you seen it? The cat, today?”
Spike blinked, then shook his head. “Nope… I saw ‘er last night, ‘fore you headed off to bed. Haven’t seen her since.” Spike’s face hardened a bit. “Did you lock her down HERE again?”
Angel shook his head immediately. “No. I learned my lesson when Fred went off on me… Besides, I remember it’s little green eyes watching me before I went to sleep. It was there.”
Spike blinked slowly, then muttered, “Hell. The little baby’s lost ’round here somewhere…” He got up. “C’mon. You lost her, you’re gonna help us find her. First thing is to round up everyone and see if anyone’s seen her today.”
Angel sighed, but for once he didn’t argue. The sooner they found the little demon, the sooner he could relax. He followed Spike out into the main entrance hall of Wolfram & Hart, and around as they asked everyone where the cat was. No one had seen it… And now there was a posse out looking for little Tuxedo.
“Tux!? Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!”, Spike called, wandering around in the basement of the big building. He’d seen the little cat down here hunting mice on more than one occasion. So he figured he should look down here. Though, so far, he’d had no luck.
The same could be said for Fred, who was ‘kitty, kitty, kitty’ing her heart out all over the lab. There were plenty of places the small cat could be hiding in there, and she DID sometimes come visit Fred during the day if Angel was locked away in a meeting. However, she had yet to find so much as a hair from Tuxedo.
Wesley, on the other hand, had found hair… A few of them, actually, but that was only because Tuxedo had a thing for sitting on people’s papers, and shedding. So any book he left open for very long seemed to collect cat hair. He didn’t mind, of course. Tuxedo was far too cute for him to allow a few stray hairs the cat had no control over bother him. Other than that trace evidence, however, the libraries were remarkably clean of cat traces. And no matter how many times he called her name, the cat didn’t show herself.
Lorne was wandering around through some of the upstairs offices, just in case the cat had gotten lost looking for Angel and wound up locked in one of there. The demon was whistling ‘Greensleeves’, since, for some reason, that particular tune seemed to attract the cat. He didn’t particularly care for it… Too depressing… But if it would locate Tuxedo, he would whistle until his lips dried out. And, the way things were going, that’s what it looked like would happen.
Gunn was in the ‘kitchen’ area of the building… One of them, anyway. But it was the one where they kept the bags of dry cat food that hadn’t been opened yet. He figured that, maybe, the cat had gotten tired of whatever Angel was feeding her, and had gone to find some new food. He’d done that on more than one occasion. But despite opening cabinet after cabinet, and even looking inside the microwave (thinking back on it later, he had no clue why he looked in there), he found nothing that would indicate little Tux had been anywhere near this kitchen. Oh well, he thought. One down… several more to go.
Angel, however, had returned to his suite. If the cat HAD been left in there that morning, she’d probably have eaten her food, right? Well, no, apparently. That was the first thing he checked, and the food bowl was still as full as it had been when he first set it out that morning.
The vampire stood in the kitchen doorway, scratching his head absently, then growled to himself. If that little furball had given him FLEAS now… He shook his head. If he could only FIND the thing, they could get rid of it. He was sure. He’d more than tolerated it… He’d put up with all of it’s problems and idiosyncrasies. He’d dealt with puked upon shoes, stolen, ripped and haired shirts, and torn… He froze, staring at the corner of his silk sheets. Or, rather, staring at where the corner SHOULD have been. It had been ripped off by little claws and fangs. Silk. RIPPED. That little demon. Forget the shelter, he was going to kill it the moment he found it.
“CAT!”, he shouted. Sometimes his shouting seemed to bring it out of hiding. Like it thought he was happy, or something equally idiotic. “Get out here, cat!”
He stood there for a moment, then growled and walked over to the bed, making a face at the disgusting remnants of the rat half on his pillow. He put one hand on the ripped corner of the sheet, then reached to grab the rat with his other hand. But the moment his hand made contact with the cold, stiff body, he felt a shock of something like electricity shoot through him. And suddenly… Suddenly everything was different…
2:00 am, the previous night…
Tuxedo dragged herself, sides heaving, up through the tiny hole in the wall under Angel’s sink that she had been using as a way of getting around the building at night. Inside the walls, the network of wood and pipes were like a superhighway to a cat her size. And it was usually easy enough to get in and out of the area, but tonight, after the event she’d been waiting for so long, every movement was filled with pain. And it didn’t help that she was dragging a rat nearly half her size, dangling from her mouth at the same time.
Determination, no matter how small the creature it came from, could always accomplish amazing things. But the little cat knew her time was growing short. She could feel the pain inside, and some deep, instinctive part of her knew what was happening. She was shutting down, one piece at a time. The effort she had expended earlier had almost done her in… But she had one last thing to do before she would let herself rest.
She turned around and reached back into the hole, seizing the tail of the other half of her rat in her mouth, and dragging it up through the hole as well. She turned around slowly, her breathing ragged, but a soft, weak purr rumbled from her throat as she dragged the back half of the rat over to a small nest she’d created. Lowering her head, she placed the half rat lovingly down on the blanket, and placed several soft, loving licks to the other tiny, furry form that rested in that nest made of a silk shirt, and part of a sheet.
When she raised her head, the front half of the rat was in her tiny jaws, and she felt her vision swim as a wave of weakness washed over her. But she wasn’t finished yet.
Carefully, using her weight to push the door open that would let her out into her man’s bathroom, she half walked, half staggered out onto the carpet, her green eyes fixed on the sleeping form in the bed. Carefully, she made her way over, determined teeth still clutching at the front half of the rat’s corpse.
A part of her was embarrassed that this, her final gift, was not a kill of her own. But she’d tried for over an hour, and had been unable to make a kill. The pain inside was too great, and it slowed her down. So she’d had to resort to scavenging, the bane of all predators… But perhaps her legacy would make up for this last, paltry offering, even though she’d imbued that rat with every ounce of love she had for her man… She hoped… and would’ve prayed, if she’d understood the concept… that he would somehow understand what it meant for her to do this…
Carefully, she climbed up onto the bed, her body screaming in protest at the exertion. But she HAD to make it… She just had to. Finally, she reached her goal, and slowly laid the token of her love on the pillow near her man’s slumbering head. Soft green eyes watched the sleeping vampire, taking in the look of death… but she could feel life from him. She’d always been able to feel life from him.
Lowering her head, slowly, carefully, she pressed her soft, furry forehead against his cheek, her purring very soft and shaky. She didn’t have much time left.
She wished her man had been awake. Wished he could’ve touched her one last time… But her touch would have to be enough for her. She knew he loved her. And she knew he would love what she’d left him. Her man who gave her food, and water… Who talked to her, and picked her up… Who’d saved her from slowly starving to death and ending two lives rather than the one that had to be given… He was her guardian angel.
A soft paw touched the sleeping vampire’s cheek, after the head withdrew, but Angel was in too deep of a sleep to wake up. His wounds were healing, and that put him into a deeper sleep than usual. So it wasn’t surprising that, when a soft, gentle tongue caressed his temple, he didn’t stir.
Tuxedo slowly backed away, and started to lay down… But then she remembered something. Her nest wasn’t complete! It needed… It needed… Her eyes found the corner of the sheet she was laying on, and her teeth and claws quickly did the rest. Yes. It smelled of her man, her angel, just as the shirt she had chosen had. Carrying the scrap in her mouth, she slowly hopped down from the bed, almost crying out in pain on the landing, as something already broken deep inside her twisted. But she wasn’t ready yet. It wouldn’t come yet.
She carried the scrap back into the bathroom, and into the cupboard under the sink, carefully tucking it around inside the shirt, so the scent would be strong. Then she turned and pushed her way out of the door again, and slowly staggered back toward the bed. Now she could rest… As soon as she got up on the bed…
Her vision was dimming… No. NO! Not now… She had to get back on the bed. With the last of her strength, she pushed herself into a run, fading eyes locked on the bed. Her muscles strained, and her broken body pushed with all it’s might and determination. A weak leap… and it wasn’t enough.
She wouldn’t get another chance.
Tuxedo hit the hard wood floor with enough momentum to send her sliding just under the bed. Out of sight. She tried to let out a meow, a last plaintive goodbye… But her body was too weak, and her lungs couldn’t draw enough air to make the sound. She was tired… so very tired… She’d done all she needed to do. It was up to her angel, now.
Sighing, and slowly letting go, Tuxedo closed her eyes for the last time. And on her last breath, the scent of her man… her guardian angel, drifted comfortingly into her nose. Her last thought, could it have been put into words, would have been shockingly simple… Yet so very meaningful.
“I love you, my angel… Thank you.”
Angel choked, drawing back from the rat and the sheet as if he’d been gut punched. His eyes were wide, and his chest heaved with unnecessary breaths as he struggled to comprehend what had just happened. For a few seconds… A few seconds that had felt like an hour or more… He hadn’t been… here. Well, he had, but he’d been… Watching something. Feeling something… Something he knew, with a feeling of certainty that twisted his stomach and brought unwanted tears to his eyes, something he knew had happened, less than twenty-four hours earlier.
Very slowly, he dropped to his knees, then lowered his head to the ground so he could see under the bed. He already knew what he would find… Somehow, he had been told. But when he saw the crumpled black and white form just under his bed, the sudden pain shocked even him.
Slowly, almost as if he was moving in a dream, he slipped his hands under the bed and slowly scooped out the still, cold form of the small cat. It’s eyes were closed. But, then again, he knew they would be. Somehow, he’d seen it…Her. He’d seen her close them.
The body seemed so small… And when his fingers gently probed the fur, he felt what he already knew was there. The tiny pelvis was fractured, and another tiny, unmoving lump rested in the lower stomach. An unborn kitten. Tuxedo had been pregnant, but she was too small to give birth without a C- Section at a vet. THAT was why she’d been eating so much… Why she’d been getting bigger, and slowing down. If he’d only known… If any of them had only known… One trip to the vet would’ve been all it would’ve taken, and the cat might have been saved… But Angel was the only one who’d been AROUND the cat enough to have realized what was going on… And he hadn’t been paying attention.
She loved him? She’d loved HIM? How? Why? All he’d done was hate her… God. He’d hated her from the moment he saw her.
And she’d loved him from the moment she saw him.
He cradled the tiny body in his arms, much more lovingly than he’d ever held the cat while she was alive. Pangs of guilt, and, yes, even grief, rocked him as he stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for his office, shifting the tiny body into one arm as he did so. His eyes closed tightly, then snapped open again when a few scenes from the ‘movie’ that had played in his head and allowed him to find Tuxedo’s body flashed through his mind again. The rat… Not a disgusting piece of dead rodent anymore, but a loving token… All the cat could find to express her gratitude… Her love. Her last attempt to get up onto the bed… She’d known she was dying, but wanted to be with him, even then. Angel found himself choking back tears as he held the little body even closer to his chest.
The elevator doors opened and the vampire took a deep breath, forcing the images and emotions back to a place where they wouldn’t show on the outside. He reached his desk, and pressed the button for the whole building intercom. His little group was all that was in the building by now, besides the security personnel, so when he said quietly into the intercom, “I found Tuxedo. Everyone… Everyone to my office, please.”, only those who knew him… Who knew that tone in his voice, came.
And, in a very short time, the whole group was assembled in Angel’s office… And everyone except the oldest vampire had tears in their eyes. Tuxedo’s body was passed around carefully, lovingly, so everyone would get a chance to say goodbye, and Fred held it last. Spike’s hand rested on her shoulder as she wrapped the little cat’s body in the same shirt she’d used on that first day to hold the cat. Fred sniffled, then sobbed and turned against Spike, who looked quite a bit choked up himself, tears glistening in his blue eyes. Angel quietly told the story of going back to his suite, thinking he might have locked the cat in there that morning. But he left out the part about the vision, or whatever it had been, that had finally lead him to find Tuxedo’s body. Instead saying that he’d been looking under almost all the furniture, and finally under the bed… And that’s where the cat was. He mentioned that, from the way she had been laying, he figured she’d tried to make a jump to the bed, and just hadn’t made it.
Leaving out the vision was partially personal, and partially professional, on his part. The professional part was that he was certain even his closest friends, his family, would think him insane if he told them he had seen the memories of a dead cat while touching a dead RAT. HALF a dead rat that had been a gift from said dead cat… Yeah. Definitely crazy material. But the personal reason was more important. That vision had been something just for him. Like the rat. A gift from someone who loved him more than almost anyone he’d ever known.
As the others filtered out a few moments later, Fred mumbling through tears that they needed to find a nice place to bury Tuxedo, and Wesley suggesting perhaps they should have her cremated, Spike stopped at the door and turned back to Angel. Angel, for his part, was sitting stone-faced behind his desk.
“You insensitive clod,” Spike said quietly, after considering Angel’s seemingly unaffected demeanor. “That little cat loved you, you know. Damned if I know why, but you were her whole bloody world.” He snorted, then growled. “Then again, you’re probably glad she’s gone, aren’t you? You always hated her… The only one who couldn’t see how much she loved you. Yes, she was a cat, Angel…” Spike’s voice softened. “But sometimes animals can be the best kind of people.” He started for the door again, then looked back, as if he couldn’t believe Angel was still unaffected. “She loved you,” he whispered one last time, almost too quiet to hear, then left, shutting the door behind himself.
The moment Angel was sure his Childe was out of hearing range, the stone- faced look dropped with a startling suddenly. He let out a quiet choked sound and rested his head in his hands. His shoulders shook, and small muffled sobs escaped him. Along with two, barely whispered words.
Angel didn’t know how he made it back to his suite later that night. His world was a broken mess of tears and blurred vision. Vision that traded itself, every time he closed his eyes, for pieces of the last moments of Tuxedo’s life. Certain parts played over and over in his mind. Moving almost like a zombie, he picked up his half of the rat, and carefully slipped it into a Ziploc bag. Yes, it was disgusting, and he would be forced to throw it away eventually, but he just couldn’t make himself do it. Not tonight.
He changed the sheets in an almost automatic series of movements, not thinking of what he was doing. And headed into the bathroom to change clothes a bit later with the same jerky, almost pained motions.
He was standing in front of the blank wall that would hold a mirror in a normal bathroom, when he heard it.
A soft, extremely tiny mew.
He shook his head, rubbing his tear-reddened eyes in an attempt to get his vision to clear. He was hearing things. He wanted another chance so badly… Wanted to let Tuxedo know how much he cared about her… Because he had cared about her, he realized. He’d been so out of practice with that kind of love… The kind that is instant and total, that he’d hidden it behind his centuries old hatred of cats. Somehow, part of him knew, Tuxedo had seen past all that. Seen past his violent, blustering exterior, even when HE couldn’t see past it, and had loved him… Because she’d known he loved her.
That didn’t stop him from wanting to show her, though. To pick her up and hold her, to pet her the way everyone else had. To drop a soft kiss between her little black ears and hear her loud, truck engine purr. A purr that always sounded much too loud for her little tiny body, but was a nice sound. After all, even vampires purr.
Angel blinked. He’d heard it again. And this time he was certain he wasn’t imagining it. He closed his eyes… and another flash from the vision crossed his mind’s eye.
Under the sink. A nest made of one of his shirts… and the missing piece of sheet. The other half of the rat… And… And…
Could it be?
He dropped to one knee and slowly opened the cabinet beneath the sink, and his eyes widened when he saw the nest, just as it had been in the vision.
Complete with the single, tiny, black and white kitten curled up helplessly atop the mound. It’s newborn eyes were still closed tight, and it wriggled slowly, letting out that tiny peep of a mew again. Angel stopped breathing as he slowly reached one hand into the cabinet and lifted out the tiny kitten. He felt fresh tears come to his eyes, as he pulled out the scrap of sheet as well, and wrapped the baby in it. Just as her mother had intended for him to do.
This time, his love wasn’t hidden. Tuxedo’s final gift would live out her days in luxury, being spoiled by everyone… But Angel especially. And as he cradled the kitten close, standing up and turning to head back to the elevator to get the others…. They would, after all, need a LOT of things to care for a newborn kitten without a mother… Angel watched the tiny baby curl up in his hands. She would need a name, he thought to himself. They could call her Tux, after her mother… But… No. Tuxedo had been a one of a kind cat. Her daughter would not be a copy… After all, the fact that she’d survived this long was a…
Angel stopped just outside the open elevator doors, and a slow smile spread across his face as he gazed down at the kitten in his hands. That was perfect. Her mother would’ve loved it. So would everyone else, he knew.
The tiny kitten’s name would be what she was. The kitten’s name would be…
(Author’s Note: Okay. I promised two chapters… And yes, I know. Very, very sad. I suppose I should explain where this part came from as well… So I will.
One night, during a thunderstorm nearly ten years ago, I found an old toy poodle that some kids were throwing rocks at. I rescued the poodle, and brought her to live with us. Her name would become Baby. She lived with us for three years, until she was actually over twenty years old, according to the vet… So you could say we became a kind of retirement home for her. But her body was slowly shutting down. When she stopped eating, we knew it was time.
We took her to the vet on a Saturday morning. A bright sunny day, ironically enough. It would’ve been beautiful, if I hadn’t known that this was the last time I’d see my dog. But still, I had doubts. Where there’s life, there’s hope, right? She was still alive. What right did we have to take that away from her? Were we doing the right thing? If she could’ve, would she have understood?
We stood next to her as the vet put the needle into her arm. A painless way to go, they said. And Baby’s age-clouded eyes regarded me unwaveringly the whole time, as I petted her head and told her how much I loved her, and that it would be okay. As the medicine began to do it’s work… slowly easing her to sleep before it would stop her heart and breathing… She suddenly locked eyes with me. And here’s the part that sounds insane. In my head, clear as if it had been spoken, and in a voice I had never heard before, I heard the words “Thank you…”. Then Baby’s head slowly laid down upon her paws on the steel table. A moment later, the vet told us it was over.
Yes, I cried that day. And have many times since then. She was my first dog, and I still love her. But I don’t feel that indecision anymore. That worry over whether or not we did the right thing. Because I know we did. And I know she knew. She knew more than any of us ever gave her credit for.
So I’d like to dedicate this story to all my pets that have gone on before, but especially to Baby. Rest in peace, old girl, and I’ll see you some day, on the other side of that Rainbow Bridge. –Tygerwolfe)
(Author’s Note 2: I don’t usually do this, but I feel the need to, for everyone who’s lost a beloved pet, if I might recommend the site ‘petloss.com’. It’s a wonderful place to share stories and pictures of pets who have gone ahead of us. And I’d also like to add this. The author of this poem is unknown, but it speaks so clearly that I cannot resist including it. So this is for everyone who’s ever loved and lost a pet. May you one day see them again.
“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor.
Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance.
His bright eyes are intent.
His eager body quivers.
Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion.
The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together, never to part again.
Thank you again for sharing this journey with me, and I hope you don’t think me some sentimental old fool for writing this.–Tygerwolfe)
(AUTHOR’S NOTE 3: Since I have written this, yet another dear friend has crossed over that Rainbow Bridge. Smokey, the cat Tux is most accurately based on, had to be put to sleep, January, 2006. The wound is still too fresh for me to say much more, or to tell the story, but like Tux… She’ll always be with me. I love you, Smokey. This story is now dedicated to you, and Baby. –Tygerwolfe)