Nov. 11th, 2005 | 07:34 pm
Rating: Mature Audiences – more later than initially but still –
adults only for safety sake
Post S5 AtS Spike and Xander get together, mission from Giles to investigate
the zoo and a spell later… togetherness becomes survival, when there is so much more to learn.
Spoilers: Occurs post everything but some BtVS S7 and AtS 5 Pretty much all AU after that.
Written for darkhavens and the Bloodclaim two year celebration on 30 Nov 2005.
Theme is “Two” Muse as usual, was more than a little tangential… ::sighs:: oh well…
Warnings: M/M but not explicit – still, if you don't like boys together, don't play here!
Disclaimer: Don't own the characters nor make any money from
stories etc, and bow down to their original creators Joss, et al.,
plus all the wonderful online writers who continue to give the
Buffy/Angel verse characters life.
The two boys had begun as enemies. When Spike was chipped, they reluctantly cohabited for a time. After that they fought on the same side, and when Buffy died they even tolerated each other. He hated Spike for the aborted rape, but forgave after the vampire returned with the soul and the apocalypse approached. They had been begrudging friends then…and finally on one momentous (rather drunken) night sometime after the first came and Spike’s sleeper was put to rest, they had enjoyed each other’s bodies consensually.
The next two months before the final fight, the tables had turned. Spike was Buffy’s friend but Xander’s lover. Spike comforted Buffy but came to Xander’s bed. The last night before the final fight Xander spent with Anya. He could not regret it, not after she was so brave. But he would have given anything for a last night with Spike. He had always assumed Spike would be there afterwards.
With ‘his’ two dead and dusted in the Sunnydale victory… he simply left. There was nothing for him anymore. He was a one eyed ex Scoobie who had lost the two most important people in his recent life, and everything he had ever owned.
He occasionally checked in with Giles and accepted the pittance doled out by the emergency fund from Washington for those in the ‘earthquake disaster of Sunnydale’. His parents had died that day, he was compensated for the house only. The life insurance had been ‘imbibed’ some time ago, apparently. Nevertheless, he had enough to start again, which he did after a fashion – drifting around the state until he found a space he felt comfortable in six months later.
Xander was in L.A serving behind a bar - a demon establishment in the less savory end of town, ever the demon magnet. He was listening to a lengthy diatribe from a very drunk Pylean demon leaning heavily on the bar to his left. “Something big went down tonight.” He served the odd green guy yet another Sea Breeze and listened. When two vampires with a soul were mentioned, he asked some discreet questions and knew it was Angel, and the platinum blonde had to be Spike! It just had to be! But
He signed off early, claiming stomach upset, which was partially true, he felt sick and
distressed. What if? What if he was dust? But what if he wasn’t?
Xander still didn’t know how
he found him. But he did. The evidence of the battle was everywhere. The alley piled high with dead or dying
demons and the scorch marks of a powerful blast.
Spike was broken and almost bleeding out. He still
held the body of a handsome, very dead, African-American warrior in his arms.
Xander could see where
tears had left a bloodied trail. Spike murmured “Ill’rya and Sire” as Xander tried to rouse him before
tearing his wrist to feed him enough to buy them a little time.
Pushing the unfortunate
friend onto the ground by Spike’s side, Xander then lifted the slim figure and carried him to safety.
He could not carry the dead body out, and for that he would always be truly sorry.
Spike and tended his injuries for a solid fortnight before the vampire came to for long enough to explain
his post Sunnydale story in full. Xander stroked the still slightly scarred arms and brushed over the
healing wounds from the night his Sire and Charles and Wesley had met their final fate. Physical
wounds became scars and even those gradually faded, and the two friends healed together.
Twelve months on, the two had become lovers and later decided it was for all time and claimed each other as mates. For reasons of bad memories and a fresh start, they decided to leave the USA for good. Giles came through, sponsoring them to the UK where they disappeared into the population.
They based themselves in Esher, Surrey. They rented a small ‘two up, two down’ with a lovely little garden just outside London. They had been there now for four months. Xander really didn’t mind the weather because a rainy day was a day in with Spike.
Xan had returned to making furniture for a local specialist store, and Spike had found he had a talent for binding books in leather. Although for the most part they lived off the Aurelian money and Xander’s investment of the compensation he had been afforded. They kept in contact with the coven and the new Watchers’ Council (more specifically Willow and Giles) and occasionally agreed to do a job or two.
For some reason, Giles had sent them on an excursion to Whipsnade Gardens, an offshoot of the London Zoo, to investigate several odd occurrences of big cats being expertly tranquilized and their handlers disappearing. It was not the only zoo affected. Two private parks and the Paris Zoo had been hit by the ‘sandman’ as the press were calling it.
The last month had seen the disappearance of three zoo keepers tending felines who had recently reproduced. With a successful breeding program, the London Zoo often sent their cubs to other zoos, but the three cubs were still present and ready for transfer. The drugging incident coincided with a press announcement from a private holding in Spain. They had apparently purchased three cheetah cubs from the zoo. Something that a spokesman from London hotly denied – even going so far as to display the cheetah cubs for the press. The coven tested the area and magical activity was detected, but the reason for it still puzzling.
Some weeks later in the later pages of the Guardian, the disappearance of the three keepers was flagged, but with only two paragraphs or so and an announcement in missing persons by the respective families, it largely went unnoticed.
The tigers and panther at Whipsnade had just produced cubs. There was a build up of magic in the area and Giles suspected the next occurrence would be there.
Spike and Xander went in late at night dressed as keepers, hoping to catch the thieves in the act. They had been told by Giles that they would be let in by the night keeper, however the contact person appeared to be absent from their post and did not answer their phone. Spike hurdled the fence with ease. Xander managed to scramble over inelegantly, relying on Spike to catch him as he dropped awkwardly to the ground. Xander was about to say something but was silenced. “Sshhhh, Somethin’ don’t feel right pet.”
Approaching the tiger enclosure, there were no animals to be seen. They wandered around the back to the sleeping quarters. As they stepped up to push open the stiff gate together, the entire area shimmered and felt distinctly odd, then the world spun and went black as they both fell unconscious…
The licking and cleaning was all automatic and happened when he first woke. Two furry front paws… and clean and lave and then…// OMG! Where… and what??? They were his paws, and with the fuzz and … and … and…// then there was black as he passed out again.
The next time he awoke, he was lying on a soft bed of straw, someone else was massaging his ears. Appendages that seemed to be in the wrong spot… someone else was licking and gently biting behind them, it felt right… it felt like home and comfort… it calmed him and as he heard the purring, he knew that it was for their comfort also.
Spike had also awoken to panic, the body was not his own, nor was the species! But he had a heart beat and licking around his mouth realized he still had his fangs, if anything bigger and sharper than ever. That was satisfying at some level. He was still a predator. He deliberately sought to breathe and calm.
The tiny white tiger yawned and stretched languidly, and felt the strength in his new form, saw the stripes and knew what body he was in, so let himself go on instinct. He was licking his now fuzzy mate’s rounded soft ears because it felt… like the thing to do. It felt like family, Xander felt like family and smelt like family. So he licked his brother-for-now’s ears with a small hot tongue… because he was worried, licked the soft fur… because it was comfort. And so was his purring… that at least was familiar, even if the higher tone was not.
Two … they both had two legs this morning and two arms… and opposing thumbs… Now there were four legs, with furry paws and retractable claws and the legs that definitely articulated in different ways. He also felt uncoordinated and stumbled as he moved toward a larger warm body. Somewhere in his mind he was the same old Xander but … he just didn’t feel right!! He was no longer blind in one eye but had two functioning chocolate and gold eyes like his brother (and again with the weirdness… Spike was his lover, he thought… but now definitely… family.)
Apart from them there were two identical cubs and two other far larger tigers in the enclosure. Xander panicked. Tigers *were man eaters* but then realized that the larger female was nudging him affectionately, licking him with a far larger tongue than had been caressing his ears. Indeed Spike who still had a link with him and had been the original licker, was acquiescing with apparent pleasure as they both rolled onto their backs with their identical twins and gave in to the amazing caress of her enormous tongue. He wondered how old they all were for her to be so attentive.
The tigress lay down and offered her belly with six full teats at the ready. The smell was intoxicating and the two interloping young cubs had no more human or vampire thoughts, and simply accepted the wonderful gift. They latched on along with their two siblings (?) to drink with gusto, side by side, pawing her furred stomach gently, squeaking their pleasure, and suckling until their little tummies were bloated. They all then curled up against her and slept until the sun began to rise.
Xander woke to an enormous rough tongue licking him all over, the tigress cleaning him thoroughly. He squirmed a little as he woke completely surrounded by warmth and smell of … family… and took a moment or two more to register. He relaxed back on his side again, as she moved on to the next cub. As the large striped torso shifted a bit to pursue her task, he rolled onto still slightly unsteady legs and padded over to Spike who had just been ‘bathed’.
He flopped down beside his partner still hazy and started to experiment. He flicked his tail, then rolled onto his back to lift and bite one of his back feet while ‘checking out’ the extra appendage. For some reason he felt good, even relaxed… it was odd… having a tail. It was a strangely good, odd though… even if he realized that he must be a *very young* tiger. So…. not so… noble or elegant as the adults in their pen. Nevertheless he released his foot and rolled to his stomach where he chewed on the presented limb of his pale partner, evoked a squeak, and swished his new feature one more time.
He noticed Spike all but grinning at him, the tiny white tiger’s blue eyes sparkling as he swished his own tail, deliberately touching his golden companion in the process. Xander pounced on his white friend (stripes only just showing) Spike bit his ‘brother’, and they proceeded to roll awkwardly.
After many minutes of ‘tussling’ they gave in to their bodies’ needs and fed again, yawning wide and snuggling in close, the reassuring presence of the tigress and the two other little figures making them both feel oddly content. Giles or Willow would look for them, but for now this was… just [yawn again] nice.
They woke to growling and made odd tiny growls, squeaks and whimpers of their own, somehow knowing they were hearing distress. They watched confused as the uncoordinated actions of the tigress and the larger male in the enclosure were followed by the larger forms collapsing, both the adults succumbing to tranquilizer darts. Similar things were happening in the next cage where a jaguar was making a futile and almost drunken attempt to protect her three young before collapsing.
Spike bit the hand that grabbed him, and was dumped into the large Hessian bag without ceremony. Xander followed. Both had drawn blood from their captors. The two were now squashed together against the rough cloth as they listened to two men speaking and were carried to a vehicle somewhere.
“You’re sure they’re the right ones?”
“Positive, stone glowed blue when it was over them, besides the other two cubs were pretty passive… bit of a clue ain’t it?”
“What about the night watch guy? Thought he was gonna..”
“Nahh boss figured Trinidad so black panther was more ‘is ‘natural’ color like.”
“Geez… remind me not to get on the boss’s bad side!”
“Yeah well you do, ‘n ya won’t be complainin’ ‘cept for some growlin’ ‘til ya get shipped!”
Many hours later the two little ones had both soiled their space, something their human/vampire *and* tiger minds abhorred, but they had no choice. The bag was suffocating, dark and smelled like… fear. Others had been taken in it before. They heard the plaintive mewling of another little feline nearby and assumed it to be a panther cub. Spike purred loudly to try to help. The two little tigers (formerly human and vampire) were eventually tipped from the bag into a small cage. It was already a tight fit, yet they managed to create some space by cowering together into one corner as a cover was put over their confines and all went dark again.
Two cages were placed in the boot of a car. Spike’s nostrils flared and both their ears pricked up at the sound of an ancient car engine. The ride was harsh, their tiny bodies thrown around several times as the car apparently lurched through traffic.
They knew they were being loaded into the cargo section of a plane as they smelt the fuel and heard the unmistakable sound of roaring engines. The cover on their cage was lifted and a spotlight blinded them for a moment, Xander whimpered and Spike snuggled closer for comfort.
An officious voice was behind the light somewhere, “Two tiger cubs for export, one, two – check destination, Dubai [mumbles: bloody rich foreigners!] check – Vaccination papers, check – Vet Clearance, check…OK then... Right to go, Stan.”
Just before take off, ‘Stan’ poked two teats through the mesh of their transport cage. Both little bodies had been starving and cold for hours so neither hesitated, they latched on, pawing the harsh wire of the cage and finishing their respective drugged milk meals. They had hardly finished when all went black.
They woke hours later but simply lay fearful, intertwined and thirsty until the new vehicle they were traveling in suddenly stopped. They were transferred again but had no clue as to where they were truly being taken – other than to the middle east. Both woke several times in the next day or so to comfort each other until fed by human handlers again, each time falling back into slumber.
It was three days from their kidnap when they woke fully, out of the vehicle and out of the cage. They were lying on a soft bed, with a fuzzy blanket tucked around them. For a moment Xander thought he was back in Esher, but then Spike’s high pitched whimper reminded him of their current dilemma.
They had been thrown around en route and Spike’s side was bruised and sore, even Xander could tell. It was his turn to comfort. He licked behind Spike’s ears and nuzzled him. They reached for each other through the mating link. It was still there. Spike eventually responded in kind.
Neither could fail to notice, they both sported gem adorned collars. Xander observed sadly, there were two larger collars hanging on the wall big enough to accommodate a far larger ‘animal’, they were apparently intended for them as they grew.
“Look Father they’re licking each other! How lovely!” A human child in traditional Arabian dress moved to stand in front of their … cage. “May I feed them father?”
“Of course Ahmil, but you must ask the keeper when their proper feeding time is.” The boy was obedient. Spike recognized the language, Arabic.
A pretty lad with olive skin and pale green eyes, squatted beside the perspex door of their sleeping area. Spike tried to say something, but all that came out was a tiny growl. The boy grinned, Xander also tried to catch his attention but as he reached up a paw, he toppled over, still too unstable on three legs to manage the maneuver. But the act evoked a delighted snigger.
“Father! I think this one is trying to talk to me! Oh and Look! They really are lovely.” Both Xander and Spike gave up trying to say anything, and simply moved forward to the cage door their tails swishing with frustration at their inability to communicate. The act evoked a squeal of delight from the lad and resulted in the door being opened a little, and a small tentative hand reaching in to pet the soft barely stripy pelts. Both cubs did the only thing they knew might help, they each licked the fingers and rubbed soft foreheads against the tender touch, purring as loudly as their little bodies could manage.
Out of the corner of one eye Spike saw the large Sheikh smile, “They will make fine pets for you my son. See how they already respond to you. But you must always be careful Ahmil. They will grow powerful, as you will also as you grow, but theirs is the greater physical power. Be sure you mind their trainers in all things.”
“Yes father… and thank you father… it’s a *wonderful* gift… thank you.”
The older man left the room mumbling something about “… should hope so at 300,000 pounds Sterling plus transport! My wives cost me less last quarter.” The Sheikh mused that it was no wonder the London Zoo was doing well, given the rate their cats reproduced and their willingness to sell to private collectors.
The two little tigers whimpered for the first few nights. The trainers assumed it was missing their mother and oddly that was partially true, the little bodies instinctively craving the comfort of the tigress. But the real grief being expressed was for their lost human/vampire forms, the fear that they would not be found, and the distress over their lost freedom.
They had been in the enclosure for two and a half months.
When alone the two played together and slowly gave in to their feline nature. It wasn’t too hard. Xander remembered, indeed still had, parts of the hyena spirit, and Spike had lived with his demon for close on a century and a half. But this was different. Their minds, their spirit was there but everything else, their form and instincts were pure tiger. They had been lucky too, in an odd sort of a way, they had been changed to young cubs so they were in fact, growing tigers, learning their strengths and capacities naturally as any child of Sheer Khan might. They fought, climbed, growled, chased, ambushed and finally snuggled down every night together. It made the transition strangely simple.
By the fourth month they were both struggling to remember what it felt like to stand upright, to speak and be understood, eat anything but raw meat, or walk off a leash when away from their holding pen. In the first weeks they had yearned to be rescued, convinced that Willow and Giles would find them. Now, as their previous existence seemed to fade, they were beginning to not care.
Their holding area, their cage, was on the ground floor at the rear of the palace. It had Perspex surround, not bars, and was set up like a tiny rainforest for the viewer’s pleasure. The floor space was that of a medium sized house, and was covered in soft sand and fine bark throughout so the ground was both soft and warm. Handlers came in every day to exercise and school them. They were being trained as personal pets. One white tiger and one gold, they made a spectacular pair. Their eyes had kept their original color, though Xander’s were slightly more yellow than his chocolate of old as befitted his dark stripes.
Xander and Spike’s mental link seemed to have endured, and their communication via that was strengthened with each day. They also had instinctive body signals and growls that enhanced the understanding. The only frustration was the inability to tell their friend, their master Ahmil what they were trying to say. But he was both kind and attentive and sometimes got it right.
When the sun was scorching and the heat too much, they resorted to the palm and bamboo surrounded pool in their enclosure. Spike was initially very timid but confidence improved as he realized his own new natural talent for swimming. Once sufficiently wet, they generally retreated to snooze away the heat of the day under the shade cloth canopy amongst the newly planted second layer of rainforest plants. They always touched when they slept, more often than not a head resting on the other’s torso or a paw on the other’s back.
Ahmil never failed to visit them at the end of their exercise sessions, sometimes allowed to wrestle the young tigers by the handlers. Both Xander and Spike were extremely careful with their fragile human. The boy became bolder, and began to stay to groom and feed the two in their cage. The lad was enamored by his two pets. His father worried a little as the tigers grew, but standing at the training enclosure one afternoon late in the third month after their arrival he watched the *three* wrestling together, and could only smile, noting that despite all the growling, rolling around and batting, the fast growing cats had their claws retracted and only ever seemed to open their mouths over their playmates, never really biting down.
Giles was devastated and Willow frantic when the two did not return from their night of surveillance. They had sent Xander and Spike into a situation that was apparently benign, to simply investigate and observe, but it had consequently proven either deadly or magical or both.
After conventional methods of searching failed, and they discovered the night keeper had also gone missing, Willow and her coven attempted to home in on the magicks surrounding the zoo. The result was profoundly disturbing. They had known prior to the night, that there was a buildup, but the residual magical signature around the cat enclosures was extraordinarily powerful and ancient. Giles suspected a particular warlock from the Baltic state of Lithuania, Szolt, who was stronger than any others in Europe and a ‘gun for hire’ so to speak.
It was obvious in the end. There had been no abductions of the real babies, but in all cases of the ‘sandman’ attack on zoo creatures, humans had disappeared. There was somebody using the human life force and the newborn to create another, an identical animal, for sale.
Three months on Willow was finally given access to the transport manifests of customs around the days of Xander and Spike’s disappearance. There was nothing. So they inquired with all UK zoos and private game parks.
Willow and Giles realized in that moment, that assuming this is what had occurred and given the apparent numbers involved in animal trading globally, it could take months if not years to locate Xander and Spike.
Willow refused to give up. But by the fourth month of their disappearance, she and Giles broke their lease and packed up the house for the two, placing their rather meager collection of possessions into storage in the old shed behind the Watchers’ Council’s new headquarters.
By month five and a half with Ahmil, the (apparently) seven month old (former human/vampire) tigers, were perhaps a half of their eventual adult size, and though the sense of fun had not disappeared, the games were becoming more serious as physical skills were primed and their senses slowly honed. Spike had been a predator for over a century and adapted easily. Xander was a little more timid, though with his handler’s training exercises and Spike’s encouragement, he had begun to stalk beside his partner easily. Their play fights became ever more robust when left to their own devices, though there was far more hissing and swiping than real injuries. What did not change over time was the devotion to each other (if anything that grew), as did the fondness for their affectionate young owner.
Spike pricked up his ears, literally, as the two trainers began to speak at speed regards a hunt with their charges at the instruction of the young Master. The prospect was exciting, Spike licked his partner’s ears, rousing him from a twitch-worthy dream.
Through the link the white tiger felt the “Hmmm?”, then they both stood and stretched, took their daily bath and waited for the outcome of the overheard conversation.
It was not long in coming. A month later, they were lead out by one of the trainers, a tall, elegant man from Mali, who was a specialist in training ‘big cats’.
Umbahla had always been fair and helpful to the young tigers, and the connection with him was real. Both Xander and Spike smelt the excitement of their trainer, but still tried to stay calm. They had learned from bitter experience that any untoward behavior led to a harsh smack on the nose, quick strike of the long crop, or the rest of the day in a small cage at the end of the training enclosure.
They were let off their leads more frequently of late, trained to walk at heal, drop to a sphinx like pose when instructed, and return to their handlers on command. Spike was the less compliant of the two cats, though he eventually capitulated simply to avoid being ‘stung’ with the whip, or worse… confined. Now the reason for the discipline was obvious.
On this momentous afternoon, they were indeed ‘going out’. It was to be the first of many such excursions.
They were loaded into a brand new, made to order Range Rover, the back modified specifically to carry the tigers.
Xander was having flashbacks to other hunting adventures in Sunnydale. Although the human memories were becoming more and more distant, he couldn’t shake the images. His role as ‘bait’ and rather inadequate efforts, his feelings of shame and hurtful situations seemed to permeate his thoughts. Spike for his part remembered the thrill of the hunt and rejoiced in his new status back at the top of the food chain, yet felt his partner’s distress clearly through their link. He stood and moved to settle behind his hunting partner, licking his friend’s beloved ears and the nape of his neck and gently relaxing him as they bumped their way out into some of the more arid territory of Dubai.
After a good hour’s drive their leads were clipped back on and they alighted from the vehicle into bright sunlight, rather dazed. It was a game park, not of the enormous Kenyan/Tanzanian national park variety, but a game park none the less.
Xander and Spike were instinctively on alert. They could smell other animal scents, the scent of prey… hundreds of them. They could also smell other predators, in particular cheetahs and lions, though the scent seemed old. They had no place here, they knew that, yet their handlers gave them no choice.
They were led to a strategic place near a herd of antelope and encouraged to pause, plan, then move in for a coordinated attack.
Still young they enjoyed the sport immensely, caught nothing, and were returned home exhausted, still hungry and very happy. The hunting excursion became a highlight of every week until finally as the two turned one year of age as tigers, they caught a roebuck and shared the spoils. Ahmil was there to see it and most excited at the sheer magnificence of his two dangerous pets.
That day as they were being led back to their enclosure, both still rangy young tigers with blood still encrusting their whiskers and paws, the two dropped obediently beside their young master as he stopped to greet a couple of his father’s visitors. The boy grinned with pride as the two older men looked nervously from Ahmil to his pets and back. When Xander smelled a slight tinge of distress coming from his master however, he gave a low warning growl. Spike also picked up the tension and understood the Arabic. The family was sending Ahmil to a prestigious boys’ school in England when he turned fourteen, which was the coming fall. The white tiger also bared his teeth a little. Ahmil was not phased, but the men made a hasty retreat.
It was almost sixteen months since their disappearance and they finally got a break. An anomaly in some veterinary records coinciding with the dates of the disappearances, led Willow to reexamine all out going cargo on private and cargo planes. They found records of the export of the two cheetahs, and the black panther, four cougars, several lions and finally… a pair of tigers one white and one gold. The dates coincided and Willow was convinced.
She tracked down their destination with relative ease and managed to contact the transport company. Claiming to be a zoo employee eager to ascertain the wellbeing of the animals, the agent eventually gave her their ultimate destination.
Willow’s first inclination was to rush in, but Giles feared for the worst.
If the two had truly integrated with their other forms then the transition to human might be confusing at best, or deadly at worst. He counseled her and they both wrote to the Sheikh requesting a visit, “on behalf of the Zoo”
Xander and Spike were lying tip to tail, pleasuring each other in the shade of a palm in the heat of the late afternoon – lazy strokes of the rough hot tongue over the initially furred then finally exposed shaft of their significant other, driving both to a snarling conclusion. Apparently it was far from the behavior expected of young tigers, but something residual and necessary ‘from before’, the most robust of their memories and their connection compelling them.
Their handlers were stunned when they first saw it merely weeks after the two had arrived, but let the daily act continue, assuming it to be some sort of tiger cleaning ‘thing’, or at worst that it was comfort for the captive male tigers. The fact that the two were now almost fully grown (with some muscle mass still to come) continued the act was odd. That they both seemed to remain surprisingly compliant, and loyal to their master and each other, simply served to reassure the handlers that nothing was amiss.
Ahmil was spending more and more time with them as his own day of forced departure approached. The boy was sitting in the enclosure, leaning against Xander’s strong back whilst rather dejectedly yet no less gently, grooming Spike’s white and grey fur, when the two foreign visitors peered through the Perspex.
Spike tensed and half sat up pricking his ears a little, the scent was oddly familiar, some old memory, but as his young master leaned down and whispered reassuring nothings in his ear, he relaxed back to the soft horse hair brush and simply swished his tail contentedly.
“As you see, they are both happy and healthy in our care.” The Sheikh’s perfect upper-class accent gave away his Eton/Oxbridge education. “I am led to believe Mr Giles, that you were at Oxford in the sixties was it, I confess I must have ‘followed’ you?”
Giles simply smiled. He had done his homework before arriving, knowing the prince was quite the scholar and an extraordinary businessman. “Indeed, though I am a Reading boy not quite as prestigious as your education, your Highness.”
“Ahh but … may I speak frankly, one old boy to another?”
“Of course, I would be honored.”
“I would like your opinion, Mr Giles. My son is about to go to Eton, as a border of course, yet his roots are here, indeed I fear he is far more attached to his home country than I. I left it rather late for him, as you no doubt know… After my first wife died it was difficult.” The Sheikh looked pained and though Giles knew from his own research that the minor monarch now had four other wives and seven children, his first love had been Ahmil’s mother.
Giles was genuinely saddened and offered, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Indeed… thank you. The upshot is, however, that Ahmil is older than I was when I went away to school. He is, at fourteen, a top student on all the standard tests and the scholarship exams and had attended his studies to date with private tutors. His academic record is outstanding. Mr Giles, I know you are not necessarily in the education realm, but I seek a mentor for him in England… and more particularly, a place for his tigers. You see, he has refused to go without them.
“I have exhausted my contacts regards housing them close by but surely… you must have a spare enclosure at the zoo, or on your private estate… if it is necessary I am happy to donate one?”
“I… We would be honored highness. I am sure that my private estate could accommodate them. Though it may be well to consider the animals’ welfare, it does seem that they have a wonderful home here.” Giles gestured to the enclosure and the Sheikh beamed with pride.
“Ahh yes it is based on the San Diego Zoo enclosures. I will of course ask their designers to assist you if there is no such facility at your establishment.”
“Thank you, that would be most helpful.”
“It is settled then.”
“Do you mind your Highness… if my colleague and I examine the animals. They are obviously happy and healthy in your handlers’ care, but we would want to do the right thing by them also, particularly if they are to be moved and housed at one of our facilities.”
“Of course … of course…” Ahmil’s father led the guests to the rear door at the entrance of the enclosure.
Ahmil stood and greeted the visitors his hand on the shoulders of the two tigers flanking him.
They, like their owner, were lanky teenagers, though the tigers at just over nineteen months were full height, and fast gaining their adult muscles with each passing week.
Giles and Willow stopped just inside the door of the enclosure. Though he and Willow were reasonably confident of the ‘heritage’ of the two tigers, neither could be sure of how much of their original memories or nature they had maintained.
“Hello Ahmil, We are from… London and are hoping to help you to keep your, ahhh, pets with you when you move to school…” The two tigers leaned against their master and began growling, the familiar scent confusing them and for Xander, hearing English spoken began to evoke bizarre flashbacks.
Giles continued, “Well, ahhhh, that is not exactly *with* you, ‘in digs’ as it were, but … ahh… as nearby as possible… at your father’s request of course!”
Ahmil looked relieved and his pets relaxed a little.
“May we examine them?”
Ahmil looked stunned for a moment but quickly regained composure and was happy to stand aside, though still within ‘intervention’ distance, possessive and protective, should his tigers be stressed.
Giles stood back as Willow squatted down and waited for the two large cats to approach and investigate her. Xander and Spike both recognized the scent from what seemed like ancient memories. They padded toward the crouching wiccan and forced her to kneel as the pushed their weight against her from both sides.
Willow for her part stroked and petted the attentive felines and felt their auras. It had to be Xander and Spike. What puzzled her was that the aura’s were not indicating hurt or distress, rather they both seemed… content. Regardless, it was definitely their former friends in the bodies of a white and a golden tiger.
Xander remembered the smell, saw flashes of “Yellow crayon”, and “High school kisses”, and “dangerous witch", and “white hair” But for some reason, he still couldn’t quite make sense of them all. His human memories had become so vague now... There was definitely a name for that smell though. He tried hard and failed, consoling his inability by rubbing against the pretty human and licking his mate. He sent a query through their link and received a subdued reply.
Spike had a clearer recollection of the scent and for some odd reason, still felt her magic. He nuzzled her hand gently and purred hoping to discover more.
Willow could not help herself, she was enthralled. These were magnificent creatures, soft to the touch and deadly in their own right if allowed to release their full physical strength. The white tiger nuzzled her hand and the blue eyes seemed to recognize her, or she may have simply be responding to the deep resonance of his purr, as he brushed against her, the oversized cat.
“Hey sweetie… Do you remember me? We’ve come to help you… well we think we might be able to … um … that is… we’ll try but um … Ohhh!!” Spike pushed her onto her back and continued to lick her with earnest with a large rough tongue, until the older wiccan was giggling helplessly and Ahmil felt it necessary to step in to assist before matters got out of hand.
Willow was rather sad to see the two tigers, her former friends, comply instantly. They fell into heel at their master's side and dropped to a down position shortly after a second quiet instruction. She was somewhat encouraged that they were rewarded with a tidbit of meat for their good behavior, then shook herself. If this was truly Xander and Spike… they had lived like this for close to eighteen months. Giles might be right. It might be impossible to rehabilitate them even if they did come back.
That evening in their hotel, Willow sobbed into Giles’ arms, the older man stalling his own tears as he comforted the distraught witch.
“I tried to reach them Giles… I could feel [hic] him… them… both of them… but they’re [hic] not really there… their human form is just not there! But um [sob.. heavy sigh] um they seem to be happy, how can [hic] they be happy Giles … how?”
“I think it’s safe to say they are living rather a privileged life as far as animals in captivity or… ah…‘pets’ go… and it has been some time. Eventually one must give in to the natural instinct and urges of one’s body I would imagine.”
“So we were too late… We’re too late to save them?”
“I’m not sure we can assume that, but it seems to be the case at this stage.” Giles tightened his arm around the former Scoobie while using the other hand to pull off his glasses and pinch the bridge of his nose before he continued. “It, ahh, it seems the Sheikh would like us to find them ‘accommodation’ in London while the boy is at school.”
Willow’s head shot up, “What?”
“Yes, well… it seems Ahmil, the son, is to attend Eton this year and refuses to go without his pets. Of course it is a ridiculous notion but..”
“Well of course we will … we have to Giles! We have to! Maybe they’ll come back to us… you know, if they could stay with us… And then we’ll have time to find the warlock and reverse the spell… maybe… and anyway…”
Giles had already said yes but felt it necessary to caution his dear friend, “My dear, have you even thought this through?! Taking two tigers back with us is not like adopting a corgi from the local pound! We need space for them to run and appropriate training. Ahmil is expecting us to care for then… and there is every likelihood that they will still return to Dubai when the boy does at the end of his studies... so there will be quarantine issues…”
Giles had no time to finish, Willow rounded on him, her tear streaked face resolute. “We do it… And if that’s all we can ever do for them, then we at least do that! Giles… it’s Xander and Spike… we have to try! They’ll be back with us… at least they’ll have that.”
Giles felt a headache coming on. He acquiesced, “We will need the coven to make appropriate arrangements I believe. The watcher’s council simply does not have the appropriate land to accommodate their needs. Leave it to me.”
They were twenty two months old when it happened. One day they were happily hunting together, arriving back sated and praised by the handlers, and the next they were in a container headed for… who knew where.
Neither could eat, they were air sick and confused, and it was cold… very cold… The two distressed tigers huddled together shivering and semi drugged, the cursory covers hardly adequate for two felines who had grown up in the heat of Dubai.
They landed and were pushed into another container. Spike felt the sting, they both did, tranquilized by someone with a gun… Humans had never been so cruel before (?!). Xander was on his way down, the last thing he saw in distress was that his partner was on his side, tongue hanging out as though dead. He couldn’t feel him… he couldn’t feel him… his last thought was grief, then all went black.
Spike woke first and whimpered as he reached for his lovely partner. Xander roused eventually, both were disorientated and uncoordinated for many minutes. Spike managed to lift his head and flop it over Xander’s torso. Even that act was reassuring. They were still together. But both knew … they were ‘somewhere else’ but where was their young master? They passed out again.
Xander was car-sick and air-sick when not unconscious. Something about lying in a cage, swaying and lurching then being pumped full of tranquilizer just did not agree with his constitution. On the second day of their travels he lay miserably at the bottom of their tiny enclosure, trying very hard not to soil their straw. Eventually he crawled to the far corner and coughed up the remains of their last meal. It had been two days previous that they had fed properly, though substantial at the time, it was erring on the lean side as they approached their new home. Though for his part, Spike was somewhat grateful of the limited intake, as his own stomach rolled, the stench of regurgitated meat hardly helping.
Umbahla had been asked to travel with them, albeit rather reluctantly, initially, but the Sheikh had compensated him richly and allowed his family to accompany him for the duration. The latter was a great relief, and in the end the large African was mightily pleased. His children would attend school in England, and his wife was delighted, having trained as a doctor in London, she was to back amongst friends and would attend the Sheikh’s extended family in London as their private physician.
A day or so after their arduous journey they woke fully to strange smells but a familiar voice. Ahmil was caressing them both and they could smell tears…
“My dearest… my Bahir [the brilliant] and Fadi [the redeemer]… oh Please! Come back to me!”
Spike felt his young master sobbing into his lax neck. The boy’s knees were close enough to lick without too much vertigo, so the young tiger moved a little and attempted a pass with a still rather dry and uncoordinated tongue.
He was rewarded by a hearty hug and wet nape as his young master cried into his neck with relief. “Oh Bahir… Bahir… I thought you were dead… Oh thank Allah!”
A similar scene was played out as Xander awoke.
Sadly, they were still in quarantine and it would be a month at least before they would be allowed to be moved to their new home. Ahmil had to go to school and was distressed that his pets were to be kept caged, but had been told that a month was very reasonable and that it was only that they were to be housed in a private facility that the time was so short. The two tigers simply flopped down dejectedly and accepted their fate.
A month later and still a little groggy from their short trip to the coven’s headquarters, the two tigers explored their new enclosure while Ahmil watched. The warmth was now artificial, the water warmed by a heating element and the air likewise. Most of the plants were foreign if the view from their windows to the outside world were anything to go by. But then the vegetation on the game park in Dubai was nothing like that of their enclosure either, so there was no surprise in that. It was all very green though. The heated bed was a welcome surprise and they both snuggled down into the heated sheep's pelt that now formed the underlay of their sleeping space.
They both made sure to rub against their young master. His presence made things right and when Umbahla entered with some water and fresh meat, they gave him a similar greeting.
Their first night of pleasuring each other in their new abode was strictly for reassurance… and family… and to mark their space. They slept a little uneasily, the smells still were not quite familiar.
The following day they were shocked as their handler led them from their heated new home. The temperature difference was extraordinary, causing both cats to pause. Luckily Umbahla understood and gave them a moment, then took them for a brisk evening run that entailed very long leads, a quad bike and the perimeter of the coven holdings. The Sheikh had funded the improvement of all the fencing to accommodate their new charges, but Spike and Xander were familiar with enclosures and took little notice.
Spike was distracted toward the end of their run. He kept recognizing scents, and sounds and … he knew they were memories of his other life… or was it lives?. It was all so muddled these days. Xander bit the ear of his inattentive friend affectionately as they entered their enclosure again and a tussle ensued. Umbahla let them play. They had been confined for days, the least he could do was let them spar.
They did miss the hunt, and they missed Ahmil… desperately.
On the Friday afternoon of the boy’s first visit, almost a month after their arrival at the coven’s estate, they became frantic as they caught his scent when Giles opened the rear of the building that housed their sleeping quarters. Both began to pace nearby the door, growling, pawing the entrance and snorting in frustration.
Ahmil entered with Umbahla and Giles, the older gents fearful that the excitement of seeing him after four weeks would be too much for the youthful tigers. They need not have worried. The two immediately rubbed against their young master purring, then dropped to roll onto their backs in a display of submission, eventually rolling back to lie by his side and lick his hands as the young man sat on the ground with them and moved to embrace his furred friends passionately in turn.
“I’ve missed you both *so* much… and do you know… No one at school believes I own two tigers… no one! Hah!”
Spike had an odd niggle in the back of his mind, an old memory from his own school days. Something about a cockatoo and his uncle and the boys guffawing… But it was a rather painful and very human memory… It was fuzzy and he couldn’t imagine… was that even possible? Had he been human? Ever? He gave up worrying in preference to purring and rubbing contentedly against his young master’s side.
Willow watched the interaction through the one way glass. They were no closer to bringing her friends back, but watching them with the young Ahmil… at least they looked… happy?!
After attempting to reach her friends herself, by the third month of their stay Willow brought in two wiccans who were supposed to be expert animal communicators. Rhonda and Diane were led into the enclosure, and for witches who had allegedly communed with all manner of species, Willow could not help but notice their nervous demeanor.
The tigers were now over two years old and had begun to develop their true male musculature. When they stood tall their heads were at Willow’s shoulder. They were spectacular animals and their peak condition was in no small way a tribute to their wonderful handler. But the nervousness of the ‘tiger whisperers’ might also have been due to their arriving just as Umbahla was exercising them.
On fine days, he led the tigers into one of the unused paddocks on the property unclipped their leads and ordered them to "Down" until he had tied an old string bag stuffed with hay and a small piece of raw meat to the rear of the quad bike. He would then ride away some distance before calling "Hunt" and accelerating away as fast as possible. He would always release the ‘animal’ just as the final pounce was felt. It was split second timing, but flipping the quad bike was not on the agenda, so Umbahla had yet to make an error.
What ensued was usually a tearing apart of the bag and minor altercation regards the meat. The speed of the two was quite extraordinary over short distances, so to challenge them their handler had begun to call them from farther and farther away. Umbhala had a habit of doing it again, and again, until they either ran out of bags or ‘puff’. Inevitably it was always the former, meaning that the lovely trainer was compelled to clip on their leads and run them around the property three or four times until they really were ready to return to the enclosure.
The wiccans had arrived just as one of the pursuit games was occurring. Watching the two full grown tigers sprinting at top speed, leaping onto the ‘prey’ then tearing it apart, was magnificent, but also rather daunting, given they were to be in the same enclosure the very same afternoon.
It was Willow’s confidence and the utter affection the two tigers displayed for her that gave them courage. Diane dropped to her knees and waited for the two big cats to scent her. Rhonda waited back a little.
Spike and Xander both dropped in front of her, drawn to the magic she embodied. She placed a careful hand on top of both their heads and began to chant.
She was in his head. For the first time in well over two years someone other than Spike was actually speaking to him directly. But the images she sent were all jumbled. And what she said was utterly confusing. She kept talking about “coming back” and “discovering yourself” and “not giving up hope”. Hope for what? Ahmil to return… well the young master had promised so no problem there. Hope for a return to their warmer climate… well master would decide. Hope for… wait… she says a return to being human. Was he ever human? Why would you want that anyway? He reached for Spike instead of listening to her any more, and found love and acceptance.
Spike for his part, was exploring the thoughts of the wiccan more thoroughly. She considered them to be less than she. That annoyed him. She knew they had been something different ‘before’ but was not family so how could she know. She kept upsetting his mate. That was unacceptable. He stood and growled. Umbhala called him and he dutifully moved to sit by his handler, glad to be rid of the intrusive questions. Xander followed.
The young witch was a little shaken. She had never been tossed out of someone’s mind before. Spike’s spirit was amazingly strong. Retreating out of the enclosure the three witches debriefed.
The two tigers flopped down after the witches left. Both felt uncharacteristically unhappy. They had a good life, why was this human trying to change that. They groomed each other and eventually fell into a rather restless sleep.
Willow was standing at the Perspex watching the two tigers sparring. The ferocious growls and innate power being exerted by the two big cats was quite fearsome. And yet Willow shed a tear as she watched.
The gentle voice of her mentor broke her reverie, “Have you ever considered that perhaps they are happy?”
“How can they be Giles? Without their family… well OK, not that particularly, but not being human… being pets! Giles! That must be awful!”
“Really? Do you truly believe that, watching them now? I realize that they are confined, but then aren’t we also in some fashion? I wonder if their sense of belonging, of being cared for, is not something we all crave…”
Willow turned to stare at the older man, her mentor, a man she thought she knew, and saw a sense of longing, of empathy with the two powerful cats who were enjoying a wrestle in their day enclosure.
“Giles, you can’t be serious?! They’re… pets! They can’t possibly be happy with that!”
“Your wiccan animal expert was thrown out of their minds, yes?”
“And after that they were very down and seemed listless for a day. But now after a good sleep and a feed they seem to have recovered their spirits, would you not agree?”
“My dear lady, it does seem apparent that their minds have assimilated with their new forms completely. To attempt to pull that away now will destroy them both. Willow, even if we can bring them back it is very likely to break them… they no longer function as humans now… they may well need special care for the rest of their lives… or staking as the case may be!”
“No!!! Giles! But we have to… it was our fault! And now they’re…” Tears were streaming down the wiccan’s cheeks.
Giles hugged her to him and spoke into her hair, “My dear Willow, inadvertently, I think we may have given them a true sense of belonging. They have now grown up as tigers, it is obvious from the reports. They were taken at the apparent age of six weeks old, so in an odd sort of a way, have known nothing else. The fact that they seem to understand English and still have some human or vampire recollections is merely a bonus.
“Perhaps we should be approaching this another way? Spike obviously still feels your magic, and they are both extremely fast and deadly. Perhaps we can contact them in a different fashion by having them work for the coven? That way the tie would be strengthened but the need to return to human form not an imperative.”
“No!! We can’t give up!”
“Willow, it may not be up to us… Let us make the best of it for now… hmmm? They may one day choose to return to their original forms but for now… just for now… don’t they deserve a little peace and stability? If we continue to include them, without putting the pressure on, then they may indeed seek the change. And if not… so be it.”
Willow was sobbing into Giles’ chest but nodded her agreement. It was a matter of respect and love.
Spike was pacing. Umbhala had not been for two days and the tiger craved some real exercise … Why wasn’t their trainer there? He was always there! In the end the tiger stalked away from the door and chose to taunt his partner instead. It swiftly turned into a viscous fight, the snarls and threatening growls heard all over the coven.
He wasn’t about to kill Xander but they both knew, hurting was very much on the agenda. Xander was not the helpless Scoobie of old, but a predator in his own right. The tussle was swift, furious and very, very serious in its intent. They finished, each with injuries, but all superficial, and somehow they were both satisfied…. Some inner need had been sated, and their male hormones given free reign.
Umbhala was ill with influenza, and simply could not make it to work for four days. The fact that the coven members seemed not to think it was important to give the large charges some exercise appalled him when he returned at the end of the week to observe deep scratches and bite marks that the two had inflicted on each other in their boredom.
He appealed to Giles, he needed backup, a second handler, if only to prevent injuries to the tigers if they were left without sufficient exercise. Giles had no idea who might be available so started ‘at home’. Dawn had been studying veterinary science at the University of London. She had a degree in languages but had found the job opportunities, in the end, really did not appeal.
She had two more years to go but was thrilled by the idea of working with big game animals (Giles yet to tell her who, not just what, she would be dealing with). She arrived the following day on the train.
Giles collected her in the ancient Volvo station wagon (aka ‘Rolls Cnardley – ie… rolls down ‘ills and c’nardly get up ‘em’) She chatted cheerfully all the way to the coven headquarters and though Giles had every intention of ‘getting a word in’ it was simply impossible. He made many encouraging ‘hmmm’ sounds and cheerful “Ahhh yes” s but really was left with little leeway.
As the car crunched up the drive and pulled to a stop, Giles finally took control of the conversation. “Dawn you are here for a purpose.”
“Oh I totally get that and thanks *so* much! Everyone at College is wicked jealous! I am *so* looking forward to working with…”
She was cut off.
“Dawn the cats you will be working with ... the tigers… are Spike and Xander… We lost them over two years ago… There was a spell. They seem happy in their new form but need certain… things provided for them. Their young master is currently at Eton, and visits every fortnight…. They’ve only been with us for around four months, previous to that they were in Dubai. We were.. um… rather caught out in the last month when their handler fell ill. Hence my call of course.” Giles paused.
Dawn was sitting wide eyed, attempting to take in the information… “So this is…?”
“They are as they are, Dawn. Whether they remember you or understand what we are saying any more is rather a mute point … I’m sorry… but if I may reassure you… they seem happy, and they are… beautiful creatures, and very well cared for as you will soon see.”
Giles left Dawn’s baggage in the car and led her directly to the enclosure at the rear of the establishment.
Spike sniffed the air and gave a whimper, Xander was immediately at his side licking and comforting, unsure of the cause of the distress and receiving too few clues from the link. Then he caught the scent and knew. Spike collapsed into a down position his blue eyes bright with emotion. Xander followed him down, licking, purring, placating. Terrible images of death and mayhem, and a tower kept flooding the link but with the replying love and devotion, and forgiveness and admiration… Spike eventually calmed. So much so that as a stunningly attractive, tall female human in her early twenties, entered their enclosure, they both responded with respectful confidence.
Spike knew the scent… *Dawn* *Niblet* *Dawn* *Keep safe* *Safe*. His mate quickly picked up on the theme.
Dawn hardly had time to push the door of their enclosure open and step inside, when she was amazed as a fully grown white tiger licked her then fell to a full down position at her feet, his golden partner following suit. Then the two large cats simply waited, paws almost touching her.
She sat down between them and stroked them both over their forehead and between the ears. Spike was a little ticklish there as Xander well knew, and Dawn giggled as his left ear twitched each time her hand made a pass through the soft fur. They looked and felt so powerful yet the fur was plush and silky, and as the two started to purr in a low rumbling duet, she did what the wiccan communicators could not.
“Hey… Spike, Xan… I’ve missed you guys so much… and now look at you… You’ve gone and got all gorgeous cat on me,” Her rhythmic stroking was mesmerizing and Spike lifted his huge head to rest it on her lap as she continued.
Xander was almost asleep with her petting. He had a habit of not listening to humans when they spoke any more, something he had picked up in Dubai… not speaking Arabic was part of it, though he did understand all his commands and listened whenever Ahmil spoke. The way their young master said “Fadi” with such adoration melted Xander’s soft heart every time. Unless Ahmil spoke English however (which he had done quite often in preparation for school), all Xander heard was something akin to “Blaahhh blaaahhh blahhh Fadi blahhh blahh”. He had learned simply to go with the emotions and listen for the key words he knew. Spike did the rest. Often these days his partner simply sent him mind pictures and feelings regards what was being spoken about, rather than bothering with words.
He tried to listen to Dawn, but in the end simply drifted off and let Spike do the concentrating.
Spike was attentive and blinked up at Dawn with a blue gaze so like his adoring looks of old that Dawn leaned down and kissed the beautiful beast. She began to tell him at length about Italy and starting again in London, and all the shows she had been to, and various boyfriends (though it seemed they were all rather short term). She wondered whether he really understood her, until she mentioned Buffy and the Immortal and was privy to a truly frightening snarl.
“OK OK I get it! No mentioning of the big sister or the boyfriend!… Anyway… he’s not *that* perfect! You know he has to have his eyebrows waxed every month… Hello mono-brow otherwise and can I just say Eewww! I’ll bet he has back hair too!”
Spike relaxed, snorted, and Dawn could have sworn he grinned. She began stroking him again and he resumed his background purr to her commentary.
“Anyways, Giles was telling me about you know this… thing… with you guys. He said Willow’s been trying to reverse the spell but…”
Spike started growling again. Bloody meddling witch. He had had two plus years of lazy days in the sun and hunting and good food and exclusive time with his partner and a loving master… and… why would somebody want to change that now? He had recollections from before, of hunger and of need and of hurt, and before that of constant darkness and love and the hunt, but … and other even more ancient memories of being weak and laughed at. Why would anyone want to do that to him … not now!?
Spike pulled away from the gentle touch, stood and began to pace their sleeping quarters growling, but eventually picked up on Dawn’s distress and returned to her as she spoke placating him. “Oh sweetie, I don’t think they’re right necessarily, but I need to know you’re happy. Are you happy?”
To answer her, he simply flopped down behind his partner, nudged her hand away and began licking and caressing his fellow tiger’s ears and neck. He gave Dawn a cheeky look and bit the closest ear, evoking a growl as the golden cat roused suddenly and in a split second had rolled and was wrestling his white companion. Dawn scrambled out of the way and couldn’t help but grin as the two proceeded to play fight.
Eventually she followed them into the bigger enclosure and was ensconced against the wall simply admiring them. It seemed that they had forgotten about her as they wrestled, played tug of war, chased each other at lightening speed and plunged head long into the slightly warmed water. Spike eventually emerged shook himself liberally at the water’s edge and returned still dripping to flop down at her feet.
Dawn squatted down and put her hand under the lethal jaw, “I get it honey… but would you like to talk some more sometime… you know just visit as friends?” Her answer was a vigorous licking of her hand and her clothes made wet by Spike’s fur as he brushed against her.
She hadn’t realized. It was two hours since she entered the enclosure. Giles welcomed her with a slightly rueful smile.
“It’s true Giles… They really seem… content… And they are so cool together… I mean… Wow!”
Dawn visited every day. She was attentive and meticulous, and to Umbhala’s delight, more than happy to have him tutor her, even though his formal qualifications were limited. He grew to like and trust the young woman, and was amazed at the rapport she had with the two tigers. By the end of the week he let Giles know, the tigers would be in safe hands were Dawn to be left in charge. Giles simply grinned knowingly.
Ahmil arrived a week later, this time he brought friends from school.
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