Eye of the Tiger

Author: Joshua "The Evil Guy" <jab21kill[at]yahoo.com>

Disclaimer: Obviously "BtVS", but also the Journeyverse itself with specific ties to all the stories that got Year One started. I'm still trying to catch up with all of them. Another is a New Zealand Television show called "Wild Kat" about a girl who becomes a Were-tiger, but not in the way your thinking.

Notes: OK, first, I'd like to reiterate that this story was halfway inspired by the New Zealand TV show "Wild Kat". However I don't have that as a steady reference, so I'm also getting my tiger facts from online sources, primarily for Chapter 1 http://www.5tigers.org/Directory/allabouttigers.htm. For the moment this is all I've really got. If you like and would like to see more of this please contact me at my e-mail the.evil.guy[at]grandt.com or jab21kill[at]yahoo.com and if you have ideas about what could happen next, PLEASE contact me! Oh, and timeline wise it's January of 1997, after Buffy's birthday but they're all still in their Sophomore year.

Jacks and anyone not Key to the Journeyverse will not be used without permission first. Key personnel would include the full cast of BtVS, Jesse, Elanthielle, Jack Styles, and Mikki the were-jaguar. I'm not gonna touch on any of Xander's girlfriends.

Summary: After Buffy's 16th Birthday, something happens to her that will change her life forever from what it was destined to be.

Latest addition


It was a couple of days after Buffy's birthday, and Xander and Faith and all of the others that thought they knew better than her, were off on another of their world-saving adventures. At least that's the way that Buffy saw it as she angrily walked her patrol pattern.

Wesley, or Wussley as she privately thought of her Watcher, had her patrolling the west side of town and of course the cemeteries, but because of "Xander and his Amazing Friends", the Slayer usually cut out of doing the cemeteries. Giles and Jacks and Vin usually covered them, as well as all of the other hotspots around the Hellmouth.

Which left Buffy with the west side of town, which counted Main Street, a couple of rundown factories, the zoo, and the beach. Not a lot of . . .

Hold that thought, she stopped as her gut clenched and she watched from the shadows as three vampires, dressed like leather fetishists, ran across the street and looking very suspicious, as they were obviously trying very hard not to be seen by normal people, and one by one they jumped the wall into the zoo.

Curious, and feeling beyond bored, Buffy made sure no one was watching her, and then ran across the street and quickly climbed up to the top of the wall and waited until she could find the vampires again.

Surprisingly, it didn't take her all that long and she quickly caught their movements, heading away from her and the wall very quickly, but completely silent as well. Making sure she wasn't about to drop in on a porcupine or a pit of snakes, Buffy looked down and around quickly before leaping down onto the zoo path with barely any sound at all. Quickly double-checking that she hadn't been detected, she reoriented herself and started heading as fast, and as quietly, as she possibly could in the direction the vamps had gone.

Half an hour of maze-like running, and almost losing them several times over, Buffy was sure that the vampires must have figured out she was on their tails already. Tired of the cat and mouse, Buffy pulled her stake out and losing all trace of stealth, started heading for the closest vampire that she could sense was in range.

It was easier than she thought, as it was no longer trying to lose her, but kept heading in one direction. After passing a number of signs, all of which had only one sign in common on them, she quickly figured out where the vamp was going. The Tiger Exhibit.

Unfortunately, the vamp she was chasing had a pretty big lead on her, and she could no longer feel the other two. Which meant they were either too far out of her range, or something very bad was going on here.

Not wanting to think too much on it, Buffy just doubled her speed and worked harder at catching up to the vamp and cutting time off her wait to catch up to it. Within a few more minutes, and some close shaves by leaping across whole exhibits instead of staying on the path to go around them, Buffy had finally caught up with the vamp.

With a huff of air, and a slight thump of her feet, she landed on the top of the mountain-look-alike Tiger Exhibit. It was actually more of a building than it looked like from the ground, but Buffy was more interested in the vampire that was coming in through the zookeeper's entrance than zoo architecture.

There was a single animal in the enclosure, if you don't count the vamp, and very much awake. A brilliant White Siberian Tiger, jumping and leaping about the grass, looking quite restless, and now with the vamp fully in the enclosure, looking quite angry as well. The clouds moved out of the way of the full moonlight, and the ground lit up to Buffy's human eyes. This was also the first time that she had noticed the ornamental knife in the vampire's hand.

The Tiger was looking more and more agitated, but it did not attack the vampire. Buffy figured that was a good instinct since even she didn't know which would win in a fight, a man-eating beast feared and intermixed with myth and legend, or a vampire. Not to mention this tiger probably wasn't man-eating since it had probably been raised in captivity.

"There, there, my pretty," the vampire was drawling as it crept closer to the tiger. "It won't hurt but a minute. My Master wants your precious blood, and he'll have it. Although, I'm sure he wouldn't mind missing a few drops. I've never had tigers blood before."

Buffy squinted her eyes in anger. Hunting humans was what she expected of vampires, but animal cruelty, even a dangerous animal like a tiger was labeled as just wrong in the Summers' book. The tiger roared out a growl at the demon, and Buffy couldn't help snarling out her own growl as she tightened her grip on her stake and started forward to leap into the enclosure and slay the vampire.

Later on, she probably would have been cursing herself for not thinking ahead. After all, after she had gotten rid of the vampire, what's to say the tiger wouldn't have attacked her once the demon was gone? And also, why hadn't she sensed the other two vampires sneak up on her?

Luckily, instead of ambushing her where she had sat watching the other vampire, they two had ambushed her as she was running and leaping into the Tiger Exhibit, so that all three landed in a pile inside the enclosure.

Buffy recovered first, and going with her own instinct, she plunged her stake immediately into the heart of one of the vampires on the ground. It dusted, but before she could turn her attention to the last two, they had all recovered and both remaining vampires turned their attention to the Slayer.

With a growl the second vampire blindsided the blonde, while the one with the knife came up and tried to slash her with it. Going with the hit, Buffy turned around and ducked under the knife slash and came back up with a roundhouse, which knocked the knife away into the bushes. She finished the combo up with a rapid punch to the vamp's face and kidneys and swept his feet out from under him.

Apparently feeling left out, the second vamp came up behind her and tried to blindside her again.

"You know," she quipped as she ducked under his punch, "it's not nice," she elbowed his kidneys and brought her knee up to the underside of his ribs, "to sneak up," the first vamp got back up and she backhanded punched him without even looking at him, knocking him back into the bushes where his knife had landed, "on people," she turned her attention back to the first vamp and began a serious combo that Faith, of all people, had shown her, "especially, when they're kicking your BUTT!" she finished her quip with a thrust of her stake to the vampire's heart, dusting it.

Breathing a sigh of relief, and ease of frustration, Buffy turned around to finish off the first vamp, only to see it making a run for the tiger, the dagger in his hand. "Shit," she cursed and ran to take out the vamp before it could hurt the animal.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, before either the vamp could get to the tiger or Buffy could get to the vamp, the tiger got to the vamp!

Buffy stopped short, skidding on the unfamiliar soil until she landed on her butt, only a few scant feet away from seeing why tigers were labeled as man-eaters. The vamp tried desperately to use it's weapon, but the tiger just moved too fast for it, using it's claws, teeth, and perhaps superior strength to disable, and then shred to pieces the vampire. Finally, after maybe two minutes of gruesome mauling, the tiger cinched it's powerful jaws around the vamp's neck and squeezed . . . until the vamp's head popped off and it dusted.

Still awestruck, and stunned at the sight that she had just witnessed, Buffy was still sitting there in the grass. Until the tiger turned and looked her right in the eye. And that's when she remembered that she was still in the cage with a dangerous tiger!

Crying out in fear, Buffy stumbled back and scrambled around until she finally got to her feet, but the tiger had started to stalk forward, even as Buffy kept moving backwards. Suddenly, she felt cold stone at her back, and knew that she could retreat no farther. The slayer didn't know if she could take a tiger, not that she wanted to, but still she hoped that her strength and speed advantage might allow her to keep the tiger off of her enough for her to escape.

Her heart was beating so fast and her mind was so muddled with terror that she couldn't really focus on any plan. The tiger, thankfully, was only starring at her. Not growling, or even baring it's fangs, just staring at her. Not that it was any better than fending off being mauled, because those yellow eyes, reflecting in the moonlight, were cold and unfeeling and she knew that they could kill her in an instant and not even blink. They were so hypnotic and terrifying at the same time . . . so . . . hypnotic . . . cold . . . terrifying . . .

Pain . . . no, not pain, fear! An invasion . . . predators, dangerous predators . . . invading MY territory! Unclean, death, DEMON! Fear of the demon . . . it tries to threaten me . . . claw, shiny, used by humans, it tries to take me! Fear . . . ANGER . . . Unclean in MY territory! KILL IT!

Human, female . . . more unclean . . . more predators . . . human HUNTS the unclean! The DEMON tries to take ME . . . ANGER! ANGER! Teeth tearing . . . claws shredding . . . unclean blood . . . KILL DEMON!

Buffy shakes herself out of whatever trance she had been in and startles to realize that her hand had been softly petting the tiger. Her fear returning full fold, she doesn't hesitate in leaping up and pulling herself higher on the rock face until she is safely out of the enclosure, and then she runs home as fast as she possibly could.

She sneaks in, it being well past midnight everyone else is already asleep in bed, and quickly strips out of her slaying gear. Her hands begin to shake as she dresses for bed, and they don't stop even when she's lying under the covers, struggling just to keep it from being her whole body that shakes.

It wasn't the fear, which had passed long ago. What was making her shake so much was the unreal experience she'd had when she found herself petting the tiger. For just those few seconds . . . it felt like she was the tiger, and saw through its eyes.

Chapter One

The next morning, Buffy was finding it very difficult to get ready for the morning, like most of her energy had been drained away. After a breakfast of bacon, sausage biscuits, minus the biscuits, and throwing in some of the leftover hamburger from last night, the Slayer was feeling a little better. After that, she headed off to school while her mother drove Dawn to the younger Summers' school.

The walk was short and even somewhat pleasant for the still drowsy Slayer. There was a nice breeze with the scent of California Winter flowers on it that blew in from the Northwest, and barely a cloud in the sky.

Buffy was enjoying her walk so much that she almost didn't notice that she was already at school, much to her regret.

"Hi Buffy!" Willow chirped immediately upon seeing the blonde Slayer, snapping her out of the other world she had been in.

"Huh? Oh, hi Willow. Hey guys," she said to the redhead and the two boys behind her.

"Buffy, just the super powered teen we were looking for!" Jesse excitedly exclaimed.

Both of the girls rolled their eyes, but Buffy allowed Jesse his question, "What's up?" she asked.

"If Superman and Batman were to duke it out, who would win? And you being all super heroy, we figured you'd have some insight into this philosophical dilemma."

Buffy just stared for a couple of seconds, not believing the question, until she actually allowed herself to think about it. "Well duh," she said after a moment of absorption, "Superman would so totally kick Batman's butt. First of all, Supes has got the whole invulnerability thing going for him, not to mention he's way stronger."

"See, my point exactly," Jesse said in a 'so there' way to Jonathan.

"But how hard would it be for Batman to figure out Superman's one weakness and use it against him?" Jonathan immediately countered.

"He does have a point Buffy," Willow conceded.

"Why are we having this conversation?" Buffy asked sounding very confused.

"Because we have nothing better to do and we're trying to avoid talking about the homework due today that none of us but the brainiac have done," Jesse said matter-of-factly.

Buffy winced, recalling she had a couple of questions left to finish up on her Social Studies assignment.

"Yeah, and that just goes to show you Jon, even teenage superheroes dread the thing that is homework," Jesse said at Buffy's expression.

"You know if you guys would just put in the time of finishing assignments, you wouldn't put yourself through so much grief like this," Willow sagely replied.

"Hey! I was patrolling OK? I was doing the teenage superhero thing, like Jess said," Buffy defended herself.

"Yeah OK, Buffy has her excuse, but what's yours guys?" Willow challenged.

The guys exchanged sheepish grins and replied together, "Star Trek Marathon last night."

Buffy and Willow rolled their eyes and let out huffs of frustration. "Why is it that I'm stuck hanging out with geeks and weirdoes and Xander has his own posse?" Buffy near-growled.

"Hey!" Jon and Jess exclaimed together.

Buffy's eyes suddenly widened and she looked at Willow before the redhead had even opened her mouth, "Omigawd Willow, I didn't mean that, I mean, I just . . . I . . ."

"No, it's OK Buffy," Willow said tolerantly, "I know what you meant, and they are weirdoes. And I like to think of being a geek as a badge of honor. Sorta like Screech on Saved By The Bell. Or…"

"URKEL!" J&J crowed together, and then broke up laughing, while Willow suddenly blushed.

Buffy took it all in, added with a faint scent of embarrassment coming from her best friend, "Ya like the Urk-man, huh?" Buffy teased. But she saw Willow's point. Being called a geek was like automatically being called one of the smartest people in the world. At least in this day and age.

Suddenly, the wind shifted and Buffy took a few breaths before her eyes dilated and her jaw clenched. A few moments later Xander came around the corner followed by Faith and Tara, his posse as she thought of them.

"Jess, bro!" Xander cried out in greeting as he and Jesse exchanged high-fives, "What's up with the fab four today?"

"Oh nuthin much," Jesse drawled as they strolled the hallways, meandering towards the common area until class officially began, which was always about two minutes after the last bell rung, "But maybe you can add some input to our little debate here. If Superman and Batman were to duke it out, and it doesn't matter why, just that they are, who would win?"

Xander stared off into space for a second, then gave a minor wince as though annoyed at some random thought he'd had before finally answering, "Are you kidding me?"

Everyone was half expecting Xander to continue with the same response Buffy herself had given, why the heck anyone would be talking about something so stupid. Never let it be said that Xander Harris was predictable, Buffy reminded herself.

"Batman would totally win the fight in the end," Xander gave his answer, totally confident.

"What? Superman would cream Batman all over the pavement!" Buffy cried out before she knew she was talking.

"Oh contraire Buffmeister," Xander grinned in that way he always did when Buffy hated him most, "While both caped superheroes have their own secret identities, if it was revealed who Superman was, Clark Kent would no longer exist and he would be forced to be Superman all the time. Whereas Bruce Wayne could just come up with a clone to be him during the day while he became some other crime fighter at night. There is also to consider Superman has one fatal weakness, while Batman, being entirely human, is actually better trained at survival than even the Man of Steel and has in fact proven capable of taking on superhuman threats and even taking them down."

Buffy just stared at the critical logic Xander had thrown at her and then huffed and folded her arms while retorting, "Superman's stronger than Batman, and no amount of tricks or gimmicks would stop him long enough to keep him from beating Batman."

Faith grimaced slightly as she entered the conversation with, "I almost hate to admit it boytoy, but I gotta side with B on this one. S-man could totally clean the Bat's belfry if he put his mind to it, kryptonite or no kryptonite."

"Why are we having this conversation again?" Willow tried to intercede, looking totally lost.

"I have no idea," Buffy whispered to her as Jonathan and Jesse got back into the argument.

While the boys got even more into their discussion, Buffy sensed a presence that she had been dreading since before she came to school that morning, and judging from the way Faith was suddenly smirking with her own little cock-eyed grin at something over her shoulder, the blonde Slayer would have to guess that he was directly behind her.

"Wesley," Buffy greeted her Watcher with as much enthusiasm as she could, which wasn't much, before he'd even spoke and stood up to face him.

Looking a little startled, the young Watcher quickly regained his composure, but once again Buffy spoke before he could.

"I was just on my way to the Library to give my report on what happened on last nights patrol," she sweetly told him, batting her eyelashes a little. "But thanks ever so much for saving me the time of finding you once I got there." In a much more normal tone, she turned back to her friends, and Xander and his posse, "I'll see you guys later. Wills, save me a seat?"

"Sure thing Buffy!" Willow called out as Slayer and Watcher walked off down the crowded hallway.

Once they were in the Library, several things instantly changed about the expressions the Slayer and Watcher were wearing, and especially in the way they regarded one another.

"I would appreciate it Slayer Summers if you would address me in public with more respect than…" Wesley started to say, his face and posture haughty and annoyed.

"Respect?" Buffy angrily growled, her face nothing but barely contained rage. "Respect is a two way street Watcher Wesley Wyndham Price! You do not walk up in the middle of a hallway to a student and demand that she follow you. Especially when she's having, albeit a very weird, but nevertheless conversation with her friends! And don't even pretend that you were going to do anything else if I hadn't beat you to the punch about making me come in here to report like a good little soldier."

Wesley squinted his eyes, the only sign of real anger Buffy had ever caught from him, before it was suddenly squashed beneath his oh-so-proper English exterior. "If I recall correctly, you are the one that insists on having her own patrol route. And much to my own ire, these reports go to Mr. Harris just as much as they go to the Watcher's Council. I don't much like the way things are run here any more than you do Miss Summers, but . . ."

"Gawd!" Buffy exploded, jumping away from the counter and started pacing the floor. "Merrick wasn't even half as bad as you are, and at least people trusted me to be able to take care of myself once I had the training, which I still do! And now I've got even more training on top of that! And would it kill you to just once, just once use my name. My name is Buffy! Say it with me, Buf-fy!"

Wesley just glared at her, but the glare became one more of concern and confusion as he watched her continue to pace. "I take it then the night did not go well?" Wesley took a shot in the dark.

And at the very least hit the target, if not the bulls eye as Buffy stopped pacing and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

"The night went fine. Not much action," Buffy had to admit as she sat down on the edge of the table, "but near the end I cornered some vamps, three of them at the zoo." Buffy paused in her retelling while Wesley pulled out a pen and paper and started writing.

"Can't say exactly when it was, but I'm just walking along the west side of town, like I was supposed to," Wesley glanced up with another glare, but quickly returned to his writing as Buffy didn't even pause between breaths, "And then just as I'm passing the street across from the zoo, my gut tenses up and next thing I know is three suspicious lookin' vamps are crossing the street, looking both ways several times over, making them even more suspicious, and as I watch they jump the wall and go into the zoo."

"I wait about half a minute, then making sure no one is watching me, I quickly run across the street and leap the wall in a single bound," Buffy grimaced slightly as she was inadvertently reminded of the conversation she'd been having before this one, "I wait for a bit to see if I can find the vamps again, but it takes me a few minutes before I do so I let my gut lead the way. Spent at least an hour chasing them around, trying to play cat and mouse, but eventually I got bored with that and finally I just cornered them . . . near the tiger exhibit."

Buffy was confused. She had meant to say 'in the tiger exhibit', but near had just popped out. When she was about to tell the rest of the story, she felt a sudden clench of adrenaline race through her heart, almost like fear, but not nearly as potent. No, it was . . .

Eyes . . . green, yellow, cats eyes . . . human, no her eyes, hazel brown, but . . . the change, into . . . deep . . . hypnotic . . . BLUE eyes . . . Tiger eyes!

Buffy shook herself as she snapped out of the vision, or whatever the hell it was. One second she had seen, through a colorless haze, what she knew to be normal cat eyes, up close and personal. Then a flash and it was like she was looking in a mirror, close up at her own eyes, and then watching those eyes change into the eyes of the tiger last night.

But for whatever reason, as she noticed Wesley looking up at her as her pause continued to grow in length, she felt that it was important for Wesley, no not just Wesley, but anyone, especially Xander to know what happened last night. At least not until after she'd figured out for herself what had happened. And what was happening to her.

"And then?" Wesley prompted.

"And then I dusted them. It was only three Wesley, not exactly troublesome, like those SWAT vamps everyone was so worried about a couple months ago," Buffy told him.

"Well, that's true, but," he tried to say.

"But nothing. You guys train me to kill vamps and demons. You already know the details of how I fight, so all you need to care about is what and where I fight, right? I fought three vamps at the zoo and killed them. That's all you need to know. After that, I just finished my sweep of the west side and then went on home and I went to sleep until bright and early this morning at 6 AM, when I had to get up and get ready for school. Are we pretty much done here?"

Wesley sighed and nodded, removing his glasses and pulling out a handkerchief from his pocket. "Yes, I suppose we might as well be," he grumbled, but Buffy was already moving out the door.

Sunnydale High Quad

Buffy wandered around for a bit until she finally caught the familiar flash of red that was her best friend's head of hair and quickly made her way in that direction. When she caught further sight of brunette skank and blonde wallflower, no doubt obscuring Sunnydale's own superhero Xander Harris from her view, she slowed her walk and briefly, very briefly, considered sitting somewhere else. That lasted all of a tenth of a second and she continued her journey in the direction of the bench where lunch was being had, albeit at a very slow pace.

"I'm telling you guys," she heard Xander's voice just before she caught sight of the speaker, "in a fair and especially in an unfair fight, Batman could actually beat Superman. I'm not saying it would happen nine times out of ten, but it would happen."

"Nuh-uh Boytoy," Faith disagreed, shaking her head, "Supes has got the power and knows how to use it. Bats brains, while packing their own punch, don't measure up to that."

Buffy sat down with a grimace on her face and asked, "You guys are still on that?"

"Not much else to talk about unfortunately," Jonathan confided in her.

"Well what about . . ." Buffy stopped as she actually tried to think of some topic of debate other than superhero vs. superhero. As she thought, everyone stopped and stared at her, waiting to see what she could come up with.

"Uh, well there's . . ." she almost said politics but shuddered at the thought alone, "but there's also . . ." No that was lame too, "well, the very least you could do would be to tally up to see who's beaten the badder bad guys!"

Xander and Faith's eyebrows both shot up in surprise at the blonde Slayer, while Jesse and Jonathan's both lit up with intense and delightful thought.

Finally the two warriors managed to recompose themselves and Xander grinned as he answered, "Well then it's easy, Superman's taken out some of the most powerful, but without a doubt Batman's taken down the craziest and the really sick psychotics. The really dangerous ones are the unpredictable ones like the Joker and other insane villains like that."

"Yeah, but Superman actually beat Darkseid one time!" Jonathan protested, "He beat an actual god. In the comics anyway."

Xander snorted and rolled his eyes. "Trust me Jon, taking out a god isn't that big of deal. Yeah they hit harder and move a bit faster, but if you know where and how to hit them, they can be beat same as any other guy, or girl for that matter." Then he chuckled to himself, like it was supposed to be some kind of inside joke, until he winced like he'd been hit again.

It happened often enough that Buffy just ignored that and turned her attention to her lunch, and then she suddenly stopped and stared at what she had brought as her lunch.

"Uh, Buffy, isn't that a bit much on the protein department?" Willow asked, referring to everything on Buffy's tray being nothing but meat.

"Uh, yeah . . ." Buffy shrugged and then she caught a good whiff of the food in front of her, and suddenly she was ravenous! "But I like meat, is that a crime? I don't like veggie's same as any other kid." With that said, she dug in.

With her bare hands.

"Uh, Buffy?" Willow tried to get her friend's attention.

After about five minutes though, the blonde Slayer seemed to come out of some kind of trance, at least to Willow's eyes as she sat back up and used her napkin to wipe her hands and mouth clean, although her tongue cleaned up most of that mess, licking all around her lips and mouth.

"Was it good?" Willow couldn't resist asking in a teasing tone.

Buffy was too busy trying not to panic to think up a clever answer to Willow's innocent question, so she just put on the 'Mom face', the one she put on to make sure her mother never found out about her late night and other supernatural activities.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, it was good. Didn't you see me digging in and stuff?" Buffy laughed nervously. "Are they still at it?" she asked, hoping to distract Willow long enough for her to calm down herself.

Willow turned and looked at the actively debating group and smiled warmly, remembering simpler days, when Xander had still made sense.

"Yeah, they still are . . . Buffy?" Willow turned back around to find that all of a sudden there was not a single trace of her friend. Even her tray was gone, and Willow couldn't see her anywhere in the crowd.

Just outside of the quad, and down the hall from the restrooms, Buffy was half staggering, half running for them. She knew she was going to be sick, because if she wasn't then there really was something wrong with her!

Once she was safely in the restroom, she went to the farthest stall and locked herself in there. Finally she just collapsed against the wall, her entire body shaking, her breath coming in ragged gasps. She didn't eat meat, not like she just had. Sure, she enjoyed the occasional hamburger and steak, but . . . it was all she could not to growl in satisfaction as she chewed every bit of it. The only thing that really kept her from doing that was that it wasn't . . . raw meat. It had all been cooked, and deep in her throat she had felt longing for raw meat!

As the thought tumbled through her head again, she almost did puke, but it just wouldn't come up. Unless poisoned, food belonged in the stomach and that's where it stayed.

She blinked as this realization came to her. It felt more like it was a fundamental truth to her state of being. Like breathing, you never questioned it unless you were suddenly breathing too hard.

Just then, the bell rang, startling Buffy to her feet.

"I've got to get to class," she mumbled to herself, wiping her face, which was more beaded with sweat rather than tears like she'd expected. Just to be sure, she stopped at the sinks and splashed some water on her face then wiped herself dry with some towels. As she finished drying the last of the moisture off her face though, she looked into the mirror, and stared at her reflection.

She froze for half a minute, unable to believe what she was seeing.

Her eyes, her pupils, were yellow!

But not vampire-yellow, demonic and completely devoid of humanity even when the vampire wasn't completely vicious, something she stared into and knew all the time. No, these eyes were . . . tiger eyes! Yellow, predatory, lethal tiger eyes!

In a flash, the night, the . . . the vision when she was in the Tiger's cage with it, came back to her. Half an instant after it finished, she jumped back and screamed, "NO!"

Her heart racing, she almost didn't look back in the mirror, but curiosity as much as determination forced her to. Her own, scared-looking, hazel brown eyes stared back at her. With a big sigh of relief, most of the tension drained out of Buffy's body and she quickly raced out of the bathroom and for her next class. Biology.

Sunnydale High
Sophomore Biology

Gregory Howard, whom Xander was doubly glad as reason for wasting 'Ms. French' before she'd had time to kill him and get herself put in as the substitute biology teacher, was flipping through slides on numerous mammals around the planet, this weeks lesson, and amazingly enough, Xander and Faith, notorious slackers in all things academic, actually found the slide show interesting and were fully awake and paying attention to Mr. Howard's lecture.

"And here we have the Siberian Tiger," Gregory lectured as the slide changed to show an orange and black striped cat creature. He flipped through a couple more, showing what he called a South China tiger, then an Indochinese tiger, even a Sumatran tiger, and then the more commonly seen in zoos, White Tiger.

"Tigers are rather notorious predators, legends and myths have been involving the tiger for centuries, possibly longer," he continued, "There's even a Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac. However this is biology, not Mythology, so let's talk about the animal itself."

"The Tiger first of all is an endangered species. Tigers live in Asia in a variety of habitats: from the tropical evergreen and deciduous forests of southern Asia to the coniferous, scrub oak, and birch woodlands of Siberia. Researchers think that there are between 5,000 and 7,500 wild tigers living in the world today."

"Tigers are ambush hunters, stalking their prey, approaching as closely as possible, and then charging the animal from behind. They usually bite the neck or throat of their prey. The neck-bite, which severs the spinal cord, is typically used on small or medium sized prey, while the throat bite, which causes suffocation, is used on larger animals." "After killing their prey, tigers drag the animal to a safe place, consuming it over the course of several days. Typically, wild tigers gorge themselves on fresh kills, and can eat as much as 40 pounds of meat at one time. The tiger will not eat again for several days."

"Over much of the tiger's broad geographic range, wild pig, wild cattle and several species of deer are its major prey. All prey are forest or grassland ungulates that range in size from 65 to 2,000 pounds." "Unlike wild tigers which kill their prey and then gorge, tigers that live in zoos are fed a prepared diet of horse meat and vitamins daily. They may eat as much as 10 pounds of meat per day." Everyone, as the teacher spoke, was quickly writing down these facts.

"Continuing, adult tigers are solitary animals that establish their territories in areas with enough prey, cover and water to support them. The difficulty of locating prey in tiger habitat makes it more efficient for tigers to hunt alone. As a result, they do not tend to form social groups like lions. A female tiger and her cubs are the exception to this, and will form a family group for 2 to 3 years, until the cubs are able to fend for themselves . . ." Gregory paused as everyone in the room suddenly became aware of a noise that was not the slide projector or the AC.

Xander, unlike everyone else in the room, knew exactly what the sound was, and where it was coming from. A cold chill ran down his spine as several wild implications hit him all at once, and then he turned and looked, with wide-eyed dread to see a snoring Buffy, right across from him.

The thing was, she wasn't snoring, she was growling, like a tiger. And Xander, who has heard a tiger's growl before knew that it was a tiger's growl coming out of Buffy's throat. It certainly didn't help his state of mind as he watched Buffy twitch a little in her sleep, not unlike his cat did when he was a kid. A real kid.

<Elan, what the hell is going on?> Xander asked as he switched to aura-sight, but was just as shocked by what he saw as what he heard.

Elanthielle was silent for several long, dreading moments. Xander almost snapped at her when she finally broke the temporary silence and answered, <It . . . would appear . . . that Buffy has somehow . . . contracted lycanthropy . . .> Elan was hesitant to continue.

<WHAT! How!? That's not possible! Oz and his cousin, and any other werewolves, don't even show up for another year!!>

<I don't know Alexander,> Elan told him sympathetically. <But it's in her aura. Her human energies are mixing with what is undoubtedly an animal aura. It's still in it's early stages, but I don't have very much experience with this sort of thing. Only in identifying it, nothing in dealing with it. And it's impossible for me to tell which animal aura that is, at least at this stage.>

<Oh great!> Xander groaned and added another worry to his plate.

By this time though, everyone had figured out that Buffy was snoring and the one making the noise. Willow, who was sitting next to her, realized this at the same time as everyone else and quickly tried to wake her friend up, even as someone turned the lights back on.

Finally, Buffy awoke from Willow's poking her side, and after a brief yawn, realized that something was very wrong. Especially since everyone was just staring at her, and Xander seemed to be studying her like she was some kind of rat in a maze.

"Thank you for demonstrating a tiger's sound so well Miss Summers," Mr. Howard said grimly, "However if I needed such input, I would have definitely asked for it. Now . . ."

Mr. Howard stopped again when Buffy's face went from embarrassed High School student to full on terrified, and then she quickly got up and ran out of the classroom, barely remembering to grab her stuff as she went.

Half an instant after she'd left, Willow, and a heartbeat behind her Xander both got up, grabbing their own things and the few things Buffy had left behind, and chased after her. Despite the laughing uproar in their departure, Mr. Howard quickly regained order and continued class as though there had been no interruption.

They were on the outer school grounds, almost to the gate, which lead to the highway that ran through town, before Willow and Xander caught up with Buffy. She wasn't crying so much as shaking, and wasn't shaking as much as she was jumping at almost every little thing.

Xander's enhanced senses and Elan's knowledge couldn't begin to figure out what exactly was happening to the Slayer in this instant, but Xander's instincts had a pretty good guess.

"Buffy!" he called ahead, tapping into some of Elan's power to let him catch up to the Slayer before she could escape, "Buffy wait!"

Finally he caught her and grabbed her by the shoulder, hoping to slow her down enough that he could actually stop her. He also anticipated her not wanting to stop and using her superior strength against him, and readied a move that had once made Faith, before the hitch, stop and take stock.

"Buffy, would you just wait!" he cried as he latched onto her.

As expected, she automatically attacked him. What he didn't expect was the speed at which she did it! He knew one thing though, Slayers cannot normally move that fast! They're marathon runners, but they aren't snakes or . . .

TIGERS! That's it, Xander's faster-than-thought thoughts realized, even as Buffy turned with a flash of movement, and then slammed both her hands against his chest with bruising Slayer force. Which of course knocked him back well over twenty feet through the air.

Willow came up short, but understanding that her friend was distraught, did not allow her fear to show. "Buffy, stop!" Willow finally commanded, resolve face firmly in place.

The combination of Willow giving a command and resolve face was just enough to make Buffy obey, although she looked like she would bolt at any second.

"Buffy, please, calm down and wait for a minute, would you?" Willow practically begged her blonde friend.

Now confronted with puppy dog eyes, Buffy had absolutely no choice but to do whatever Willow said. Slowly, looking, and feeling, like she'd prefer to be ANYwhere else doing ANYTHING else, Buffy walked back to Willow's side, where Xander joined them a moment after Buffy got there.

"Xander, are you OK?" Willow asked once he had joined them.

"Yeah, I'll be fine, Faith throws me, when she does, a lot further than that. And at least I had a nice soft patch of grass to land on instead of hardwood floors and cement walls," he quipped with a lopsided grin.

"Buffy," Willow caught the Slayer's attention, just as she would have bolted again, "what happened in there? You can trust us, and if us knowing about your Slayer secret doesn't prove that, I don't know what will. But, you can trust us Buffy, so please, tell us what's wrong."

"I-I-I, I don't know," she stuttered, looking extremely nervous and trapped.

"Calm down Buff," Xander interrupted when he saw whatever was animal in her aura flare at that moment, and was glad to see that it smoothed back out, or at least not as intense once Buffy had calmed down, even a little bit. "We're not out to get you, and we definitely don't want to hurt you. We're your friends, and we want to help you," he promised her, "So step by step, tell us what is going on and we'll see what we can do."

"I don't know," she admitted again, but less nervously. "I was just so tired sitting there in class, and the next thing I know I'm asleep. And then everybody is laughing and that's what woke me up . . . but not before I heard the sounds that I had been making. I'm telling you guys, that was not a joke, and I *know* without any doubt that I do NOT make sounds like that when I sleep. And then . . . I panicked and I ran out here."

"Just for getting caught sleeping in class?" Xander sounded like he couldn't believe it. And despite the very real worry he was feeling, he couldn't believe it. "Buff, nine out of ten times I've been sent to the Principal's office was because I was sleeping in class. Everybody laughs about it, but it's not big enough of a deal to go running out of class over. That just makes everybody tease you more. Trust me, I'm talking from experience here."

"Oh yeah, like that time in the 6th grade," Willow reminded him.

Blushing scarlet, Xander grunted at her, "Not now Willow."

Because Buffy was looking even more guilty than ever and that worried Xander, because before or after hitch, guilty-Buffy face was never a good sign. Usually it was a sign of an approaching apocalypse.

"All right Buff, confession time," he said, "what's going on? And don't try to rub off that you were embarrassed at sleeping in class. Something major is going on with you. Did something happen on patrol last night?"

Without meeting his eyes, she asked back, "What makes you think I went out on patrol last night?"

"Because I know Wesley, and I know you, and while I trust the two of you not to do something incredibly stupid, I also trust you to do your jobs as Slayer and Watcher. Did something happen on patrol last night?" he repeated.

Buffy still wouldn't meet his gaze, but she answered, "Maybe . . ."

"Does, by chance, this have anything to do with tigers?" he prompted.

She looked up at him, and seemed to be sizing him up about something. She was the Slayer, and a part of the supernatural world. The stranger explanation was usually the correct one, and sometimes, more often than not, the first explanation people thought of was the strangest one by far. And all she knew right now, from her strange eating habits, the stranger thoughts and instincts that had been flying through her mind all day, and then what happened last night, all of it came together as an explanation that it all had something to do with the tiger she had saved, and then ended up petting last night.

"I trust you," she said to Willow, and then turned to Xander, "both of you. Do you trust me?"

"Without a doubt or hesitation Buff," Xander answered immediately.

"I trust you Buffy," Willow swore.

"Then come with me," and she turned and started to stalk off. Off school grounds that is.

Half an hour later, despite Willow's many protests, and Buffy's demands they trust her, they were on the bus, on the way to the zoo. Soon they were in the park itself, and Xander suddenly got a bit more nervous, wondering absently what had ended up happening to that insane shaman zoo keeper.

"So what is this about Buff?" Xander asked after having paid their tickets. "This isn't about hyenas, is it?"

Buffy shook her head, leading them along a path, one they noticed was heading towards the Tiger enclosure after seeing a few signs. "No, you were right the first time Xander. Last night I followed some vampires in here. They gave a good chase, but we all ended up at the tiger enclosure. I think they were going to use the tiger as some kind of sacrifice or something, cause one of them had a knife. But I interrupted whatever they were going to do and managed to dust two of them." She paused for a healthy breath, as they came up to the Tiger area. "The tiger dusted the third."

"Wait a second here, you fought inside the tiger enclosure!?" Xander urgently whispered.

Buffy just nodded as she lead them around until she began to feel something. She paused again, then frowned in concentration before sprinting ahead until she stood in front of one specific enclosure.

"Yeah. Like I said, I thought they were going to use the tiger in some kind of sacrifice. And I wasn't about to pull them out of there just to fight them outside," Buffy retorted, however her eyes never left the enclosure itself. "But the freaky thing didn't happen until after the vampires were gone and it was just me and the tiger there."

"Well, most tigers, especially ones raised in captivity aren't man-eaters," Willow told them.

"Unless provoked," Xander inserted.

"The vamps sure did that," Buffy said, still staring at the tiger environment.

"But what did you do Buffy?" Xander asked quietly.

"I just stood there, too afraid to move. The tiger came up to me, and . . ." she stopped talking.

"Then what?" Willow prompted.

Rather than answer, Buffy just kept staring at the green foliage in front of them, separated by a glass wall. Then, without warning, one of the leaves moved, and a moment later a large, female, white tiger was walking out of the green, until she was practically right in front of the teens, where she then sat down on her haunches and stared back at them. Or rather, at Buffy.

Xander immediately shifted his eyes to the mystical and almost winced when he did. The tiger was not normal. But as near as he could tell, even with Elan's experience, he couldn't even begin to tell in what way the tiger was different. He could tell that it was her essence that was infecting Buffy at that moment, but what was even stranger, as he stared at the tiger, there was a piece of Buffy's essence in the tiger as well.

<Perhaps Alexander, this is not so simple as we believed.> Elan interrupted his thoughts.

<How so?> he immediately queried.

<If this were a simple were-creature case, Buffy would have to have been bitten or in some other way marked by this tiger, and the tiger itself would have to be capable of becoming it's own were-creature. But so far the only lycanthropic evidence is purely spiritual, affecting only their auras and perhaps their minds and instincts. There is more to this than we are aware, I am sure.>

<So what do we do in the meantime?> Xander demanded.

<As they say, go back to the basics. Before we ever met, you and your friends were investigating the supernatural and dealing with it accordingly. Just because you know a little more, have better tools, and have more experience doesn't mean things get easier than they ever were.>

<So . . . research?> he asked with a vague sense of dread.

<Research> Elan replied with a laugh.

With a sigh, Xander just grunted to himself, "Great."

Before he could get them out of there and back to the Library or his house, a mild, but accented voice called just behind them, "Hello. Interested in Kenda here?"

The teens turned and stared as a tall, well-groomed man with dirty-blonde hair, dressed in the uniform of one of the zoo keepers, stood there staring at them, a warm smile on his face.

"Kenda?" Xander repeated.

The man stepped forward and gestured at the white tiger.

"She just came in a few weeks ago from Northern China. And she's not captivity-bred," at their confused look he added with a friendly smile, "I heard you talking. The authorities took her off some smugglers, probably poachers, and they sent her here to recover before sending her back into the wild. Unfortunately, that's looking like it won't happen. Some . . . private owner has been making some noise about buying her. Like she was just some bred pet in a store. Bloody parasites."

Buffy looked back at the tiger and then turned back to the man. "Is that possible? For somebody to buy an animal from a zoo? Even one that's going back to her home?"

The man shrugged and let out a long sigh. "For enough money . . . almost anything can be bought. Kenda here, however, she had been Chinese property, only here for medical treatment and some recuperation. Then the same man that wants to buy her, pulled some legal mumbo jumbo and she became property of this zoo. Now he's making bids."

"That's horrible," Willow whispered. "What kind of person cares so little about living creatures that they'd do all that?"

"That's a good question," Xander spoke, "What's his name? Maybe I can do something about this."

The man sighed again and leaned back against a metal railing nearby. "He's chosen to remain anonymous unfortunately. But ever since she got here, Kenda's always been kind of restless. We were worried for a while, but today . . . I don't know. This is the calmest that she's ever been. Don't suppose you're an animal tamer?" he asked Buffy.

"Huh? No!" Buffy immediately denied, and then turned to stare at the white tiger, Kenda, again. Kenda just stared at her, before settling down on the soft grass and stretching out like any house cat getting ready to take a nap.

"You sure about that?" the man asked.

Buffy remained silent, just staring at the tiger, unable to explain why she felt like lounging about herself. She just felt . . . right, safe, secure . . . when she looked at the tiger, and she could have sworn the tiger, Kenda, was feeling the same just by looking at her.

"Uh, thanks for your time. Come on girls, we've got to get going," Xander decided to call this little field trip to an end before anything happened beyond Buffy staring at a tiger.

However one thought just kept running through his head as he lead the girls to the zoo's exit. Why didn't this happen the first time around?

Sunnydale High School Library
After School

"So what's the deal X?" Faith asked the moment that Xander walked into the Library with Buffy and Willow. Giles, Faith, Tara, and Wesley were already there, waiting on them.

"Where are Jesse and Jonathan?" Willow asked.

"Looking for you, Red," Faith answered. "Something about being late for practice at the dojo?"

"Oh! Oh no! Master Lee! We had lessons this afternoon!" Willow screeched and began working her way to a major panic.

Xander quickly cut off her head of steam though. "Don't worry Wills, I'll call Master Lee and tell him why you won't be there today. It'd be too late even if we left now anyway."

"OK, now back on topic boytoy," Faith interrupted him. "What the heck happened to make B run off where the three of you cut the rest of the day?"

"They just . . ." Buffy started to excuse, but Xander interrupted her.

"We went to the zoo. And not for a field trip," he told them all. "Apparently some vamps tried to take some tiger there as some kind of sacrifice last night. Buffy stopped them, but while she was still in there with the tiger."

"Oh dear!" Wesley exclaimed while Giles looked up in shock.

"Dear lord! Buffy, are you all right?" he demanded, sounding concerned.

Blushing, and glaring at Xander, she just shrugged, crossing her arms and replied, "I'm fine. The tiger didn't attack me, although it did one of the vamps. And I just had some really weird dreams is all, and I was embarrassed to be caught snoring."

"I think Buffy is a were-tiger," Xander announced, catching everyone off-guard.

Buffy, however, just turned and glared even stronger at the Rune-bearer, almost growling. Then she seemed to process what he said and seemed to stagger as it fully hit her.

"Wait, what?" Faith did a double-take while the Watchers started wiping their glasses.

"Not full blown, because she said the tiger never attacked her, and she doesn't have any marks on her, so I don't think . . ." Xander started to say.

"Wait a sec here Xander!" Faith shouted. "Is this were-tiger like, you know, Oz, or more like Mikki is?"

"Neither," he answered with finality. "So far, near as I can tell, there's been some kind of essence transfer between Buffy and this tiger. It would certainly explain why Buffy sounded like a snoring tiger in class."

"Do tigers even snore?" Willow suddenly asked.

"Apparently," Buffy remarked, still blushing furiously. She crossed her arms and sat down on a nearby chair with a huff.

"I don't know what exactly it is," Xander interrupted them, bringing silence to the room. "But, for those of us that might be worried, it is not some kind of possession deal. It, well, it looks more natural than that."

Giles looked over at Buffy and shifted his vision to the mystical, and immediately saw what Xander meant. However he also had someone who had seen something like this before in his head.

<Rupert, I think I may know what this is> Daa'naal spoke into the former Watcher's mind. <There were a people, one almost might call them a race, in Faerun. Humans mostly, but also elves and other intelligent creatures, who could bond with animals around them. Now Buffy may not be one of these people, but it is likely that something similar has happened between her and this tiger.>

<Is there anything that can be done?> Giles asked, impatient.

<I'm afraid not> the ancient elf explained, <From what I recall, once a bond between an intelligent creature and an animal forms, it is impossible to break it. Attempts to break the bond usually resulted in the death of one or both of them. Another side effect seemed to be that . . .>

<That what?> Giles asked with a certain amount of dread.

<That when one died . . . the other died as well, if not at the same moment, then very shortly after. Probably, from the depression or the shock of the bond being broken.>

"Xander, may I speak with you privately for a moment?" Giles suddenly asked aloud, standing up and then practically dragging Xander into the hallway.

"Uh, OK," he answered belatedly.

Fortunately, it being after hours, the school hall was empty. Giles then pulled him further away from the doorway so that nobody could try and read their lips through the windows in the doors.

The moment they were gone, Buffy, and just about every other teenager in the room, wished they could hear the conversation, knowing it was somehow directly related to the latest crisis they were dealing with.

And then the strangest thing happened, to Buffy. For just a moment, a single moment, her pupils flashed tiger-yellow, and her visions was bleached of all color, save for an orangish-red hue, and at the same moment all of her senses were enhanced to an amazing level. When it passed, and her vision returned to normal, her hearing didn't, return to normal that is. As she focused, she realized that she could hear every word, practically every breath of the conversation just outside.

"You saw it, didn't you?" she heard Xander asked in a hushed whisper.

"Yes, but there's something more. Daa'naal recognizes it. Whatever 'it' is. It would seem where he is from, there were a race of people, though not necessarily a separate species, which could somehow . . . bond with certain animals. Some of them could even bond to more than one. But this . . . this mixed essence, the confusing auras of Buffy and this Tiger . . ."

"The tiger's name is Kenda, at least that's what the zoo is calling her. And you'll never guess what," Xander interrupted.

"The tiger has some of 'Buffy' in her as Buffy has some of the tiger in her?" Giles guessed.

"Good guess," Xander sounded impressed.

"That's just it," Giles exclaimed, "These people that could bond with animals, their auras were intermixed with the auras of the animals they bonded to. Sort of like the old wives tales of witches and their familiars, but far more complex, and if what you and Buffy describe are true, incredibly more powerful as well."

"Does Daa'naal have any ideas on what we could do about this?"

Giles shook his head, though Buffy couldn't hear that, and answered, "Any attempts to separate or even halt the bonding process now would more than likely kill one or both of them."

Buffy gasped, panic coursing through her body as she realized that whatever was happening to her was more than likely permanent. And she still doubted if this was anything but a very bad thing that had to be stopped.

Xander sighed. "OK then, so what do we do about this? And how the hell is it that this didn't happen the first time around?"

"My memory is a little vague, but I believe I never, ever, had Buffy patrolling anywhere near the zoo until her Junior year, when we were trying to determine Spike's lair," Giles answered.

"Way to go Wes," Xander sarcastically remarked.

"Actually, we should more than likely blame ourselves, as Wesley is just sending Buffy to the areas that we don't patrol," Giles clicked his tongue in a sort of British way.

Xander sighed again and was forced to admit, "You've got a point there G-man. So . . . what do we do?"

"We help her, and be there for her, and if necessary, help her learn how to control it if possible. Like we've always done," Giles told him.

"Like we always will," Xander told him back.

Buffy was still listening, but it sounded like they were coming back in now, and she was still confused about some things that she had just heard. First of all . . .

"Who's Daa'naal and exactly why is it that Giles would have ever sent me anywhere looking for 'Spike's' lair?" were the first words out of Buffy's mouth as the double doors swung open when Giles and Xander walked back in.

"Uh . . ." a guilty looking Xander halted and almost tripped over his own feet. "What-what do you mean Buff?"

"I could hear you," she told them, standing to her feet, arms crossed, and full-power Slayer glare staring them down.

"Right, tigers got good ears," Xander mumbled to himself.

"Well?" Buffy demanded expectantly.

"B, uh, maybe you should . . ." Faith tried to intercede.

"No F," Buffy growled at the brunette, "I want an explanation. Now."

"Buffy, there are some things, very complicated things that I just can't explain right now," Xander told her.

"The Giles thing?" she asked, and Xander nodded, so she immediately turned around and asked Giles, "So who is Daa'naal and where exactly has he seen people that 'bond' with animals like I seem to have done all of a sudden? Huh? I want an answer G-man!"

Giles barely hidden scowl at the cursed nickname coming from Buffy's own mouth showed just how much a slap in the face that was. But still he remained silent.

"Uh, B, what the hell are you talking about?" Faith asked, treading carefully.

"I heard them, I . . ." Buffy stopped, closed her eyes as her emotions were suddenly running rampant. Part of her wanted to be calm and explain everything rationally, while another part of her wanted to panic, scream, cry, and go running to her mother just to be held. And another part . . . another part of her wanted to just lounge about, take a nap, maybe eat some raw antelope meat or some monkeys . . .

"STOP IT! Stop it, stop it, STOP IT!" she shouted pounding her head.

"Buffy! What is it?" Xander was by her side in an instant, surprised that she just as instantly latched onto him, heaving sobs coming from her.

"I . . . I-I can't stop it. There are . . . thoughts . . . instincts, screaming at me in my head, but . . . I can't stop it," she whimpered.

Not sure what to do or say, Xander just stood there and let Buffy cling to him as much as she wanted. Internally though, he was cursing himself with every curse he knew, and the few that he had picked up from Elan.

<I hate this Elan. Isn't there anything we can do? Maybe Merlin knows something . . .>

<I am sorry Alexander, but for right now, all we can really do is help her through this.>

Xander sighed. <I know. That's why I hate this. She shouldn't be going through this. Maybe if I had . . .>

<Don't torture yourself Alexander!> Elan snapped at him. <Your decisions regarding patrols and handling the Hellmouth may have resulted in this situation, but there is nothing to be absolutely certain of that. And as we discovered, that tiger at the zoo is not a normal tiger. There is something special, perhaps mystical about it. Buffy saving it may turn things for the better. My point is we do not know and there is no way we could have known this would happen.>

<So deal with it and move on, is that it?> he sarcastically remarked.

<As we always do Alexander, as we always do.>

Xander sighed again, but by this point, Buffy seemed to have gotten more control over herself.

"Better now?" he asked. She nodded a little timidly.

"Gawd, some Slayer I make, huh?" she asked depressed, trying to make a joke in spite of things.

"There's no shame in crying or in being scared Buffy," Xander told her, absolute confidence in his words. "Considering what you're going through, I'm surprised you aren't crying even more. I know, if it was me, I sure as hell would be. As for being a Slayer, well, I have seen some pretty tough, and powerful, and respected Slayers cry and admit they were scared at times. But that didn't make them less respected, or less powerful. In fact it made them even more powerful, and they earned even greater respect from me at the very least. I'll let Faith tell the story, but there was a time when she was bawling in my arms, a lot like you were a few seconds ago."

"X!" Faith screeched.

"What? It's true," he replied innocently.

"What is it you were trying to say before Buffy?" Willow asked, trying to get everybody back on topic. She hated seeing her only real 'girl' friend in pain like this too, but the only way to guarantee that she didn't stay this way was to find out as much about it as possible.

Sniffling a little, Buffy wiped her eyes and quickly continued what she had been telling Faith.

"I could hear you and Giles whispering out in the hall like you were standing right next to me," she told Xander. "It was weird too, because it wasn't like my hearing got super-sharp and I could hear everything, instead it was like everything else faded away until I could hear only your conversation."

<A trait that most animals share, when stalking prey> Elan conveyed to Xander.

He nodded along, and then asked the blonde Slayer, "Any other senses increase? Smell, taste? Touch?"

Buffy frowned in thought, then took a sniff of the air, not clearing her sinuses either. "Who had Bar-B-Q for breakfast?" she asked.

Everyone looked surprised, until Faith raise her hand, and then immediately denied it by say, "Hey, it was all that I could find in the fridge this morning! Hardly any leftovers too. And she could have smelled that on my breath at lunch or some other time during the day."

"And why do you have fresh shoe polish on your hands?" she asked Wesley with a glare.

Wesley, looking rather guilty, looked at his clear hands and started mumbling, "I could have sworn I got all of it off . . ."

"OK, so that's tiger hearing and tiger smell," Willow listed, "provided those aren't actually Slayer powers?" she looked at the Watchers.

Being put on the spot, both Giles and Wesley puttered about in a English sort of way before quietly denying that senses that enhanced were part of the powers of a Slayer. Faith, who had been about to speak, stopped herself when she caught a look from Xander.

"OK focus here people!" Buffy suddenly shouted.

Everyone turned to stare at the distraught Slayer. "I. Don't. Want. This. So stop trying to make it sound like a good thing. We need to start figuring out how the hell I'm going to get back to normal!"

Faith gave her counterpart a pitied look. "Hate to break it to ya B, but you weren't exactly normal before this were-tiger thing. Y'know, being the Slayer and all?"

Buffy looked stunned for a moment, then crestfallen. She turned around and stalked off, saying as she went, "I'm going home. Xander, maybe Dawn should visit Mikki for a while, instead of the other way around." Then she was gone.

Chapter Two

Buffy stormed into her home in a bit of a rage. Mostly at herself for letting this happen to her. She was the Slayer, right? So shouldn't she be able to fight this, or prevent it from happening somehow?

"Buffy?" her mother's voice called out. Buffy briefly considered either not answering, or just leaving again. With a sigh, she answered.

"Yeah Mom, it's me," she replied as she walked around to the kitchen of the house where she saw both members of her family.

"Hey, you're home late," Joyce commented as she went about the preparations for dinner. Steaks.

It had to be steaks, Buffy groaned.

"Something wrong?" her mother asked.

"What? No, no, the Librarian just needed some help after school and got a bunch of students, who probably like him, to help him out. Don't worry Mom, like in the abstract way that a student, if every possible, would like a teacher."

"Who all was there?" Dawn asked, sounding serious about her question.

"None of your business brat," Buffy teased her sister.

"Buffy," Joyce gave warning.

Buffy smiled in apology and mouthed to Dawn behind their mother's back 'I'll tell you later.' Ever since they'd moved to Sunnydale, and really since Christmas, Buffy knew that her little sister knew just as much about the nightlife, if not more, as she did, and sometimes that was better than if she didn't know.

Suddenly, just like that, Buffy realized that something had changed. That, or rather the strange instincts she'd been feeling all day, they were practically bathing her with a contentment that she hadn't felt in the longest time. It was just as shocking as the sensation when she realized that it was because she was with her family.

Curious, despite her earlier statement about wanting to find a cure as quickly as possible, Buffy decided to find out as much as she could about tigers. At the very least it would help her be prepared for whatever 'instincts' would hit her before they could cure her.

"So seriously, who was helping you out? Friends maybe?" Dawn questioned.

Buffy glared at her sister and finally sighed, unfortunately getting a big whiff of the food right in front of her at the same time, causing her stomach to growl slightly and her hunger to grow. "Yes, brat, Xander was there. And so were Willow, Jesse, and Jonathan. Nothing much happened beyond putting books away." Buffy then gave her sister a significant look, and then flicked her eyes in Mom's direction. Dawn seemed to get the message as she did not ask anything else about what she'd been doing all afternoon.

"Dawn, do you have a crush on this Xander?" their mother suddenly asked out of the blue, a knowing smirk on her face.

Blushing furiously, Dawn immediately denied it, "No! He just . . . well, he treats me like a kid sister, so I'm not under and delusions of marrying him. Not that, even if he would look at me that way, we could even get married for like another seven years, and then he'd be like thirty something."

Buffy and Joyce both looked confused, but Buffy was the one to observe, "Xander's only 17 now, and that only a few months ago. In seven years he'd barely be 25."

Dawn looked like she'd gotten her hand caught in the cookie jar as the saying went, but suddenly started babbling very loudly about some homework she needed to get done and then quickly raced out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

The elder Summers women shared a look that said it all, but Buffy verbalized it in commenting as she turned around to leave, "Weird." Joyce went back to preparing the meat, but didn't catch Buffy grabbing one of the extra, uncooked steaks she had left out. She'd wonder about it later, but ultimately would just chock it up to her memory slipping.

Later that night

Buffy almost went via the stairs and out the front door, and telling her mother that she was going to the Bronze to hang with the gang. Instead, she swung by Dawn's room after equipping herself for patrol.

"Hey squirt," she announced herself after knocking once and opening the door.

"Heading out for patrol?" Dawn asked, glad herself that her sister knew she knew about the whole Slayer thing.

"Yeah, you mind covering with Mom for me for a couple hours? I've got the bed set if she checks the room, but if you could . . ." Buffy began to ask of her sibling.

"I get it Buffy, don't worry. Won't be the first time, or the last that I'll lie bold-faced to Mom," Dawn interrupted with a fond smile. "So . . . are you teaming up with Xander tonight?"

Buffy almost growled in annoyance, instead she just stalked up to her sister and hit her on the shoulder softly and teasingly. "Brat. And for your information, no, I go solo on my patrols. Xander . . . doesn't want or need me on his patrols. Besides, I'm the Slayer. I can handle myself. Promise." With that, Buffy kissed her kid sister on the head, and then affectionately caressed the young girl's cheek and rubbed her own cheek against the spot where she had kissed. Before Dawn even thought anything of it, Buffy was gone with barely a sound of movement and her door was closed just as silently.

'Weird,' Dawn thought, turning back to the last of her math homework.

Buffy left Dawn and then silently left her door closed and turned off her lights, save a small desk lamp, which should convince her mother she was studying if that was what Dawn chose to tell her. Once everything was set, she opened her window and leaving it just cracked behind her, crawled out onto the roof on all fours.

Then she blacked out.

Well, not really blacked out so much as her consciousness was pushed to the side or the backseat as something else, something far more primal and powerful took control of her body and lead her through the night. Most, if anything, that she remembered was just flashes death, vampires dusting, and smells, sounds, and underlying emotions to all of it. It was like her visions, when she was with the tiger in the zoo, or when she'd been looking in the mirror and had that vision of tiger eyes. Only this wasn't a vision.

Buffy awoke sometime before dawn, when the sky was getting brighter but the sun had not yet come up. What scared her was not that she was outside and apparently had been all night. What scared her was that she was in the top branches of a tree that, as near as she could tell, was several miles from her home. And apparently she had been sleeping there for some time, seeing as she felt fully rested.

Gulping, and doing her absolute best not to panic, Buffy worked on trying to climb down, when she felt a flash of adrenaline tear through her instincts and she knew her eyes had turned yellow again as she saw everything in a colorless motif, and then watched herself as she crawled about halfway down the tree, head first, and then leaped the rest of the way, landing easily and painlessly on her feet and hands. And then it was over and she stood up, her eyes normal, but her breathing irregular.

Gripping her emotions tightly, Buffy held rigid control until she could actually think. A quick look at her watch told her exactly what her next action should be, and that was to get home before her mother found out she'd been out all night.

Wondering briefly if she should hoof it or try 'cat-walking' through the trees and houses between here and her home, a scent reached her nostrils, making her take a big sniff and her eyes briefly flashed yellow again, but she quickly regained control.

"OK, now I know where to go," she commented on the scent, which she somehow knew lead to her home, and just smelt like family to her. "Soon as I get to school," she told herself as she began to run as fast as she could, following the scent, "go see Wesley and Xander and get their help."

The entire trip was a literal blur to Buffy's eyes, feeling like she was in a fast moving car, like KARR, just without the actual car. But within minutes of jumping out of the tree she'd been sleeping in, she was back in the tree that lead to her window, having jumped into it from the street, and then easily opened her window and crawled back inside. Just as she closed the window, her door opened, and she only had time to step towards it before her mother's head popped through.

"Buffy, are you . . ." Joyce paused as she saw her daughter standing there fully dressed and looking wide awake, "Oh. Well, breakfast is ready downstairs. Better hurry, don't want to be late for school."

"Sure thing Mom," Buffy smiled and nodded her head. Joyce closed the door and wen back downstairs, leaving Buffy to collapse in a heap on her bed.

"Oh god that was close," she whispered just before her door opened back up.

"What was close?" Dawn asked as she entered uninvited, proving as much as Buffy said to the contrary, she was not a bloodsucking fiend.

"Nothing. Come on, Mom's making ham and toast for breakfast," the Slayer ordered as she rapidly grabbed her books, homework done before she went on patrol, and then lead her little sister by the scruff of her neck down the stairs and into the kitchen.

"What's gotten into you?" Dawn asked over breakfast while their mother had gone back upstairs to get ready for her own day.

'I almost wish I could tell you, but I don't even know myself,' Buffy thought.

"Nothing," she said aloud. "Bad night. Didn't get much sleep."

"You seem awake enough to me," the younger Summers commented.

"Caffeine. Wonderful invention and helps maintain the illusion of alertness for a couple of hours. Anymore questions Miss Interrogator?" she snapped back.

"OK, fine. I won't ask. But if there's a new vamp in town, you should tell Xander about it."

"If there was, I probably would. Don't worry about it. Now come on, I've got to head to school, and you need to finish your toast," Buffy pointed at the girl's plate before grabbing her books and quickly heading off.

Dawn looked down, only to see that somehow her cooked ham slices had been replaced by Buffy's toast. "Hey!" she called after her sister, but the Slayer was already gone. Grumbling, Dawn bit into her toast, silently imagining it was her sister's head.

Sunnydale High School Library

"Buffy!" Xander exclaimed as soon as she entered the Library. Everyone was there this time, including those that had been absent yesterday afternoon. "Thank god, I was afraid you wouldn't show up, or something, this morning. Look, I'm sorry about yesterday, I . . ."

"Forget it," Buffy waved off his apology. "I'm the one who should be sorry, excuses or no excuses, I shouldn't have shouted at you guys like I did. And Mr. Giles . . ."

"Just Giles Buffy," the older Englishman replied.

Buffy smiled and nodded her head, "Giles, I'm sorry about snapping at you. I'm sure you have very good reasons for whatever secrets you have, and I'm hardly someone to belittle someone else about keeping secrets. So, I'm sorry."

"Nothing to forgive Buffy," Giles assured her.

"Yeah, but all the same . . ." the Slayer trailed off.

Giles just nodded his head, accepting the apology for what it was. "Yes, well, I may have some more information to add, from my . . . sources," he finally told everyone.

"Uh, before we get to that," Buffy interrupted, blushing furiously with embarrassment.

"Yes Slayer Summers, what is it?" Wesley tried to take charge of the situation.

A very tiger-like growl emerged from the Slayer's throat as she snarled at him with a death glare, causing the young Watcher to backpedal in stark terror. It was a tribute to his bravery and constitution that he didn't soil himself actually.

Buffy shook her head after the very brief episode, still blushing furiously, but trudged on with what she had to say. "Uh, there's no easy way to say this, so . . . I guess I'll just say it. Uh, I sort of went out on patrol last night . . . and I don't actually remember anything that happened . . . until I woke up this morning . . . in a tree."

There was silence for several minutes as everyone digested this and either stared at the new were-tiger, or at everyone else waiting for someone to say something.

"OK, this may be more serious than I first thought," Xander finally spoke, having looked introspective since Buffy growled at Wesley.

"Uh, not to sound stupid or anything," Jonathan raised his hand as he interrupted, then asked Buffy, "but what were you doing sleeping in a tree?" and then to Xander mostly, "And why is this a bad thing?"

Buffy answered first, "I don't really know why I was in a tree. I think . . ." she thought for a minute or two, trying to remember, "I think I had been hunting some vampires. And then . . . a demon? No, something else, not a demon, I don't know! I think something must have spooked me when I wasn't even myself last night and I climbed the tree and then fell asleep until dawn."

"And why this is a bad thing," Xander picked up Jonathan's other question, "is because Buffy's falling to the tiger instincts quicker than I thought she would. Not that I'm exactly an expert on this. The good news is that I am certain that since the tiger at the zoo didn't bite you Buffy, you aren't going to be physically transforming or hopefully be able to infect others. But something did happen and I . . . I have no idea what it could be. Except for Giles suggestion that somehow you and this tiger have bonded, which seems highly unlikely."

"Why?" Willow asked.

"Uh," Xander was briefly at a loss for what to say, until Elan prompted him with a suggestion, "Because . . . that would mean that Buffy, or any member of her family, would be able to bond with any animal, not just a single, specific tiger in the zoo. The people that . . . Giles' source told us about, their power to bond with animals was an inherited thing of sorts. Family and descendants and things like that."

"Oh. So . . . how is this even possible?" Willow asked.

"I have no idea," Xander exclaimed with a huff of breath, running his fingers through his hair in frustration.

"Maybe we should go back and talk to that zoo keeper," Buffy suggested. "He seemed to know a lot about the tiger, and a lot more about tigers in general. And . . . well other than the fact that I seem to have sudden protein cravings, I have no idea what these . . . tiger instincts are going to make me do next! I mean, just because somebody cuts in front of me in line, am I suddenly going to hulk out and rip their throat out?"

"Actually Slay--, er Buffy, most tigers are not man-eaters, unless trained that way since birth, or out of pure necessity of hunger," Wesley informed them.

"Nice save," Giles whispered to the younger Watcher, smirking wickedly.

"Oh, so what if they run out of hamburger meat at lunchtime, am I going to go running around for every piece of meat in the lunchroom?!" Buffy exclaimed, getting more aggravated.

"Chill out B, we'll think of something. And Xand can always special order a cow for lunch," Faith joked.

Xander saw it before anyone else could see it, but for a bit he had to convince himself that he had seen it. Buffy's eyes, or her pupils at least, turned yellow. He could actually see the muscles in her legs and tendons tighten in preparation to jump Faith, and probably try and maul her too. As this flitted through Xander's brain at enhanced speeds, he knew he would have to stop Buffy, and prepared to summon Elan to his hand.

Before he could though, Buffy's eyes turned back to their normal color and she forced her body to relax, or at least not jump Faith. Xander smiled internally as he realized, 'She's learning control.'

"Not funny, F," Buffy scathingly retorted, less than a heartbeat later. Only Xander knew how close they had just come to potential disaster in the ranks.

"I'm just teasing B," Faith replied in a more subdued tone, "I didn't mean anything by it, honest."

Buffy just sighed, and closed her eyes, as Xander realized again, a breath later, that she had known Faith was joking. Probably from smell.

<Elan, humor me, what would happen if I put Buffy and Mikki in the same room right now?> he asked his teacher.

He felt her stunned glare just as potently as if he were seeing her face, and couldn't help wincing as she shouted at him, <ALEXANDER HARRIS, DO NOT EVEN JOKE ABOUT SUCH THINGS!>

<Bad idea, huh?> he asked timidly.

Finally, sensing that he was serious and not really joking, Elan gave it some thought. <Honestly I do not really know what could happen. Jaguars and tigers do not often meet, except in zoos, and even then they are kept apart. And Mikki has been a lycanthrope all her life. A full-lycanthrope. We don't even know for sure what has happened to Buffy, let alone how one partial were-tiger would react to a full blooded were-jaguar. But Buffy herself warned of what could happen if Mikki were to come over to the house to play with Dawn. It might be similar to how wolves react when a lone coyote enters their territory.>

<Full-blown war?> Xander sighed. <OK, so what if they both try to keep control and I'm there to referee? They both like me. Enough to trust me, that's for sure. And Buffy actually likes Mikki. She certainly wouldn't view her as a rival.>

<But she would Faith, wouldn't she?> Elan pointed out.

Xander blinked at that, a little stunned himself. But, other than a near mauling, nothing really seemed to be happening between Buffy and Faith beyond the normal banter.

"So what do you suggest we do, Mister Harris?" Wesley, having found his backbone, got back into the conversation in the lack of discussion. A slight snarl from Buffy sent him scurrying back to his corner.

Faith chuckled and commented, "OK, freaky weird as that is B, can you do that again? Love to see the Watcher-man squirm." Buffy smiled at her fellow Slayer, but didn't do it again. At least not immediately.

"We start with research," Xander announced. "Willow, Jonathan, see what you can dig up on the net about tigers. Everything you can, from the statistics to the myths, and then every version of the myths that you come across, I don't care if it's gossip, postings on a newsgroups, book order, or fanfiction. Giles, Wesley, contact every source you have about the same things. Tigers and myths about tigers. Maybe even animal possession, but that's not what we're dealing with here. Meanwhile, the rest of us . . ."

"Keep me from killing somebody," Buffy interrupted depressingly.

Xander glared at her but continued where he left off, "The rest of us, for right now, get to class. After school, this time, we'll head back to the zoo and see if we can find out more about this tiger in particular."

Buffy looked up, a hopeful glint in his eye. Xander took this as a good sign and went up to her and put his hand comfortingly on her shoulder. "Don't worry Buff. We'll figure this out, and we'll beat this."

"If it can even be fought," she added sourly.

"Xan's right," Jesse put in, "We'll beat it. The darkness never takes one of us. Ever."

Xander winced, for an entirely different reason, at Jesse's statement, and then nodded his head in agreement. "Never again," he whispered silently, but only Buffy heard him.

Sunnydale Zoo
After school

"So, what's this zoo keeper's name?" Faith asked as they slowly made their way back to the tiger enclosures.

"Uh . . ." Xander wasn't sure how to respond even as the Slayer looked at him expectantly.

"He didn't exactly give it, and we forgot to ask," Buffy pulled Xander out of the fire.

"Well that's helpful," Jesse blurted out. "How are we supposed to find this guy if we don't . . ."

Jesse stopped speaking when Buffy suddenly stopped and sniffed the air. Then her eyes narrowed slightly and she began to walk in a specific direction, rather quickly. The others raced to catch up with her, and soon found themselves at the side of the tiger exhibit, right in front of a door marked 'Employees Only'.

"Well, we should have known," Jesse commented wryly.

"Jess, bro, dude?" Xander got his attention.


"Not helping."


Buffy took another sniff and then looked up.

Xander saw that, and immediately knew what the Slayer was thinking. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back. "Uh-uh, sorry Buff. But we need you to not be acting like tiger girl right now. We'll do this the normal way."

Buffy sighed, probably with disappointment, but nodded and turned to follow Xander back around to where Kenda's enclosure was.

They were surprised to see that the white tiger was waiting for them, or at least she seemed to be as she had been pacing and then the moment they turned the corner, her attention was entirely focused on Buffy and she just followed them around behind the separation until they were standing in the middle, staring at each other.

"OK, what I said was freaky before," Faith commented, "I take back. This now takes the cake of all freak."

Buffy turned to glare at the brunette and retorted, "Did you just call me a freak?"

"Are you going to go all 'Grr' on me?" Faith asked, sounding worried.

"Maybe," the blonde threatened, narrowing her eyes in anger.

"Then no, I wasn't calling you a freak," Faith answered. A beat later, "I was calling this whole shitberg situation freaky."

Xander sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Think there's any way we can get that zoo keeper's attention?" Jesse asked. "You know, without risking getting thrown out and banned from the zoo until we're twenty-one?"

"Probably," the warrior said thoughtfully.

"Does this involve me doing something stupid and potentially embarrassing?" Jesse asked.

Xander smirked as he turned to his friend and answered, "Probably."

"Is there probably any chance that we could figure out what is so special about this tiger that just by rescuing her from some vamps, I end up with the whole were-tiger package?" Buffy interrupted.

"Probably," Xander and Faith replied together, sharing a shit-eating grin.

"That does it, I'm going up on the roof," Buffy said as she turned right around, but before she could take two steps, Xander and Faith both grabbed onto her and put her right back between them.

"Here's a better question then," Jesse inserted, "even if we know how this happened and figured out exactly what's so special about this tiger, what can we do for Buffy? No offense, and not to be a downer, but we need to face facts. You guys have said before, there is no cure for a werewolf, the best they can do is learn to live with it. What makes you suddenly think you can find a cure for a were-tiger?"

Buffy looked crestfallen down at her feet, while Xander glared at his friend. Faith however was nodding along with Jesse's logic.

"He's right X-man," Faith spoke up. "We need to face facts, and the only thing I know for sure about weres is that there is no "cure". Hell, I hate this as much as you do! But . . ." she turned to Buffy, "B, you need to start thinking that you're just going to have to accept this. Gawd, I can't believe I'm even thinking this, let alone saying it!"

Buffy's face scrunched up, but as difficult as it was to admit, Jesse and Faith were right. "No, it's all right Faith. You guys are right. I . . . I need to just figure out a way to . . . to accept this . . ."

"No," Xander denied, bold-faced. "No, we aren't giving up. And Lycanthropy is a disease. Something affecting the body and the mind and something that nobody can control. Whatever has happened to you Buffy, it hasn't infected your body. I think the thing Giles suggested, the bonding with animals thing, has some credibility. And if we can figure out how those people separated from the animals they bonded with, then maybe we can do the same for you and this tiger. And you can control this, I know you can. I've seen you actually stop yourself from falling into these instincts that have invaded your mind. We can beat this, I promise you."

Buffy smiled and impulsively gave Xander a warm hug for his speech.

"Thanks Xander," she whispered.

Then she suddenly jerked away, her head cocked to the side.

"Buff, what--?" Xander started to say, but she quieted him.

"Shh!" she hissed, then pointed just ahead of them.

The zoo keeper that they had spoken with the day before was there, walking briskly beside another man in a similar uniform, only he had full pants on instead of shorts. A quick look at the name tag on his shirt however told everyone that this man was the Director of the Sunnydale Zoo.

"Daryl, you can't tell me that you're actually caving in to this blighter, are you?" the zoo keeper was saying to him.

"John," the Director stopped them and pulled them off to the side. Buffy squinted her eyes a little as she concentrated, just as she had when listening to Xander and Giles the day before, and almost instantly she heard them as clearly as though they were right next to her.

"Can you hear them Buff?" Xander whispered right next to her.

Surprisingly it didn't sound like he was shouting in her ear, nor did it distract her. Neither did she ignore him as she nodded and listened to the men across the distance.

"John," the director was saying, "I'm trying. Honestly I am. I've nearly pulled every single legal and technical trick in the book. Unfortunately the better tricks I could try just aren't possible since your tiger isn't sick or dying from her injuries."

"Why do you think I brought her here instead of letting her go back to China?" 'John' interrupted him, "This is the best, and closest facility for treating a wild animal like Kenda."

"Thanks for the compliment, but I'm already on your side," Daryl told the distraught man. "But I just can't keep ignoring this creep's offers. He's throwing around a lot of money. A lot of money! And not all of it is bribes to give him Kenda. Although some of it could be used to later blackmail us, and on top of all that, he can still, as a last resort, go get a court order, and he wouldn't need any "evidence" of anything to get the ownership papers signed over to him."

"Do we have any idea who this bloody git is?" John demanded to know.

Daryl sighed and shook his head. "He, if this bastard even is a he, continues to remain anonymous, communicating only through the front organization, AngelsR'US. Could you get and less imaginative for a company name?"

Daryl squirmed just a bit under John's sudden glare. Then they both relaxed a little and Daryl clapped the zoo keeper on the back, saying, "Don't worry John. We'll do all that we can to protect her." Then he walked off, and Buffy's hearing returned to normal when John walked back around to the back of the tiger exhibit.

"Well?" Xander asked.

"That guy, the one with the money that got Kenda transferred from the Chinese government to here?" she reminded him. He nodded, saying he remembered, "He's been putting more pressure on the zoo people, the people in charge to give Kenda to him. Not that they actually know who he is, or even if it really is a guy and not some Cruella Deville bitch. He's only making the offers, and other donation type stuff through a company called AngelsR'US."

Xander frowned as he searched his memory, both of the future and the past. He shook his head as he reluctantly admitted, "Sorry, don't recognize them. But I think I can find out some stuff. I'll need to check with some business sources, ask around."

"You can do that?" she asked, sounding disbelieving and grateful at the same time.

"Yeah. Think there's anything we can find out from . . ."

"John," Buffy inserted, drawing curious looks. She shrugged, "The Director, Daryl, said his name a few times."

Xander just nodded, accepting Buffy's word for what it was, and continued, "Do you think there's anything else we can learn from John about this tiger, might give us a clue what to start looking for, or where to start looking at least."

Buffy frowned and thought about it. "I'm not sure. He does seem to know a lot about tigers, and he does have a personal interest in her, but . . . I just don't know. What do you think?"

Xander and Faith blinked in surprise. It wasn't every day that Buffy Summers the Vampire Slayer actually asked them for help, let alone begged their opinion on something personal.

Jesse however took it all in stride and stepped forward to speak. Before a word could leave his mouth though, a familiar voice called out from behind the group.

"Hey! I thought that was you lot," John shouted as he came up to them. "And you brought some friends today. Here to see Kenda again?" he asked Buffy as he looked Faith and Jesse over. "And where's your redheaded friend?"

"Oh, she had something else to do today," Buffy answered for them. "This is Faith and Jesse," introducing the other two brunette teens.

"Pleasure to meet ya," he nodded his head at the two, taking a look between Buffy and Faith. "You two related?" he suddenly asked, gesturing between the two girls.

"No," the both answered together, faces etched in confusion. "Why?"

"Oh, nothing, you just sm . . . uh, look kind of alike," John lamely answered.

Moving on past the weird looks the girls were giving the zoo keeper, Xander put forth his hand and spoke, "Hey, remember me? Xander Harris. So, what's the deal with this guy trying to take Kenda from the zoo? Anything more you can tell us would really help, and we may be able to help as well."

"I do remember you Mr. Harris," John took the young man's hand and gave a firm shake. "The young business man if I recall correctly. Tell me, what is your interest in white tigers Mr. Harris, school project?"

Xander smiled mysteriously and replied cryptically, "Something like that. More like an after school project."

John laughed unconvincingly and let go of Xander's hand. And then turned back to Buffy. "Would you like to see her, I think she's actually anxious to see you again."

"Huh?" Buffy blurted, and then turned towards the tiger enclosure, where the white tiger was sitting back on her haunches, staring directly at Buffy.

'That is not normal' the other three teens thought at the same moment, while Buffy was just surprised, and a little excited herself.

"You mean, go back there and get to see her up close and personal?" the were-tiger almost squealed at the zoo keeper.

John just shrugged, "Sure, why not? Your friends can come along if you invite them."

"Oh," Buffy turned, startled and looked at each of her companions. "What do you say guys?"

"I'm in," Jesse immediately agreed, Faith and Xander a step behind him.

"Great, just follow me and please don't wander off," John then lead them back to the same Employees Entrance they had found earlier. Once inside, the environment underwent an amazing change as they went from jungle walk outside to the air conditioned white washed halls of the unseen areas of the exhibit. And then there was the smell.

"Oh man! Not only does it look like halls in school, it smells worse than the guys locker room after gym!" Jesse exclaimed as he held his nose.

"You get used to it," John told them as he lead them down the hall and into an open area.

The moment she was inside though, Buffy's nostrils flared as her tiger-enhanced senses brought her a flood of new information she would never have noticed or gotten before. Her eyes widened as the hidden instincts she had been fighting all day reared back and made her actually want to roar. Xander's hand on the back of her neck immediately calmed her down and allowed her to get back under control though. With a sigh of thanks, she silently nodded at him and continued on after the zoo keeper.

Faith pulled Xander aside just as they exited the hallway and urgently whispered to him, "You sure it's a good idea letting B even near that tiger again? I mean, first time she made eye contact with it started this whole freaking mess!"

"Elan needs to know exactly what this bond between them is. And maybe if they're next to each other I'll be able to see something that can give us the clue we need. And maybe, just maybe, bringing them back together will trade the essences back," Xander quickly explained to her.

Faith gave the warrior a sour look. "You're graspin' at straws X. Don't get any hopes up. Just because this didn't happen the first time around doesn't mean we can fix it. Jesse's right, she needs to get used to this and start learning how to control it."

"She can control it Faith, but still . . . she deserves as much of a normal life as she can get," Xander regretfully told her.

Faith snorted and rolled her eyes and the two of them quickly caught up with the rest.

"Now," John was saying, "she may not come back here right away, she was fed just a couple hours ago . . ." he stopped speaking when the white tiger quickly raced in through the door that lead to the exhibit and into the cage in the room, which was obviously meant for the tiger to be lured into for veterinary checks and feeding.

The way the tiger just rushed in and then started pacing the cage, her eyes continuously going back to the blonde girl reminded everyone of a cat waiting for a can of food to be opened.

John was certainly surprised as he turned to Buffy himself and asked, "Are you sure you aren't some kind of animal charmer? Kenda's been the shyest animal here since we brought her here, and we could barely get her to eat anything. Then you turned up and she's been the best behaved tiger at the zoo ever since."

"I didn't do anything," Buffy swore, almost too quickly, but she too kept looking at the tiger. She recalled too easily the night when she was looking into those blue eyes and felt something so primal that she still couldn't describe it.

John stared at Buffy some more, but didn't say anything further, just looking between the tiger and the group. Xander too was staring at the tiger and Buffy, but he was looking at their auras instead of their behavior.

Despite Xander's minimal hopes, the essence that had been traded between Buffy and Kenda was not switching back. The good news was that it wasn't getting any worse either. Instead they just seemed to become more naturally part of each other's aura. If a werewolf underwent this kind of exchange before, or even after being bitten, there would be no worry about the wolf being an uncontrollable monster that was better locked away three nights a month. Buffy and the tiger, or at least whatever aspects of the tiger she was absorbing, were becoming one, in the sense that the human was gaining tiger instincts, and the tiger, from the looks of it, was gaining human consciousness. Or traces of it as Xander saw colors in the tiger's aura that animals never had, only humans or other sentient creatures did.

<This could be bad> Xander thought, as he began to consider other side effects of this thing between Buffy and Kenda beyond what had already been displayed.

<Or . . . > Elan countered, <it could be inevitable. The only reason that this did not happen the first time was because Buffy was not near the zoo on the night that the vampires attacked the tiger. Perhaps if she had been, this bond would have formed no matter what. How often did Buffy even go to the zoo? And any time that she did, was this tiger here then? Daa'naal may be right. Buffy may have some genetic trace of that race of animal people he spoke of. Very distantly removed, but once encountering a suitable animal to bond with . . . > she left the thought hanging.

<Crap> Xander cursed as he saw the last hope he had of returning Buffy to an ordinary Slayer go down the toilet.


Sunnydale High Library

"Hey Jon, I may have found something," Willow announced as she opened another window on the computer. Every man in the Library, Giles, Jonathan, and Wesley, was immediately crowded around her station while Tara rolled her chair over so she too could see the screen. Despite all the attention, Willow was too wrapped up in what she had discovered to care about the personal space invasion.

"What is it?" Wesley demanded to know.

Willow looked up and glared at him, and then turned back to the screen, blushing slightly as she felt the combined body heat of those around her. "Nothing concrete. Although, I think there may be a link with that news story that Jon found about the Ark and the stolen animals, including a tiger and her cub down in Australia."

Willow pointed towards the website she had on screen. "This is a newsboard on obscure and disbelieved or taboo subjects. Including talks of mysticism. One member posted this," Willow pulled up the window, "about a girl who is the sister of one of her friends. Apparently this girl was largely responsible for the capture of the people on the Ark who had stolen all of the animals. Because of her, and I quote," Willow pointed to the line as she read, "Kat's psychic link to the mother tiger, whose cub had been ruthlessly stolen by the evil doctors. As well as being a were-tiger herself, Kat has finally mastered her link to Garang and can actually control the tiger."

Willow shrugged and turned around in her chair, everyone backing up a bit.

"Willow, do you think that this person is actually serious? That she knows a girl that is a were-tiger and actually has control?" Giles asked, removing his glasses.

The redhead shrugged. "She blows it out of proportion a bit, but yeah, I think she's telling the truth. I mean, some of the things she describes in here that this Kat person can do sounds exactly like what Buffy's going through. The main difference is that this other girl has been a were-tiger a lot longer than Buffy has been and so it may have taken her a long time. I can contact her if you want me to . . ." she offered.

"No, that's all right," Giles quickly stopped her. "Although, send a general reply if you can and see if you can find out what some of this girl's source material was that determined that this other girl is truly a were-tiger. We only have Xander's word to go on so far, and I'm afraid the Watcher's Council has precious little information on the numerous types of weres in the world."

Willow nodded and turned back to the computer. Tara and Jonathan also went back to their own work, having leads of their own to follow for the moment.

"Now really Mr. Giles, I highly disagree with you being so flagrant with Council secrets," Wesley started to lay into Giles, but the Ripper just gave the Watcher everybody secretly called 'Wussley' a glare and turned back to his own research.

Gulping slightly as he readjusted his tie, Wesley went into the Library office and shut the door. Thankfully nobody saw him as he started shivering uncontrollably. The Ripper tended to have that effect on people.

Sunnydale Zoo
Tiger Enclosure

Everyone was more than a little stunned with the way Buffy and Kenda seemed to be getting along. One look from the Slayer and the tiger would settle down and just stare at her, and then when Buffy moved, instantly the tiger would be up and following her from the confines of her cage like a cat following a person holding her favorite toy.

"It's the strangest thing," John was utterly perplexed, "She's never behaved like this with anyone before, and I can honestly say that I have never seen a tiger take up to a human like Kenda has with you Buffy."

"Well, maybe I got a little bit of an animal charmer in me," the blonde replied impishly, grinning as she kept walking back and forth in front of the cage, playing with Kenda.

"I'll say," John replied.

Finally, Xander and Faith had both had enough, before this one or the other had been telling the other to chill out and wait. Now their impatience struck at the same moment, and the other was not inclined to dissuade one from getting them out of there.

"Buffy, it's getting late, and we do have stuff that we need to get done," Xander interrupted the play between the Slayer and the tiger.

Buffy stopped and looked at Xander, but it was Kenda who whimpered and let out a chuff of annoyance, like she was asking 'Do you have to go now?' Buffy's expression matched with the sentiment, but she grudgingly grimaced and nodded.

Turning to John, Buffy thanked him for the opportunity to get another close look at the white tiger she had saved, and had probably even saved her life by taking out the last vamp. "Thank you again, so much John," Buffy shook his hand.

John arched an eyebrow, but didn't say anything except to smile and nod. "You're more than welcome to come back any time. And if Kenda behaves this well around you all the time, I'll have to bring you back here again. We can hardly ever get her to eat, except for these past few days. If you show up again, I'm sure her health will really start to improve, and we can get her back to the wild before Mr. Anonymous millionaire can get his greedy little mitts on her."

Kenda chuffed again, this time in seeming agreement with the statement, and Buffy smiled, feeling a surge of anticipation. "Sure, I'd love to come back again," she agreed.

"Great, I'll see what I can set up with the zoo, see about getting you and your friends some free passes," John offered.

Xander stepped in, not liking the way that this John fellow seemed to keep luring Buffy back in. Why, he couldn't begin to guess, he only knew he didn't like it. "No, that's all right," he interrupted, physically stepping between Buffy and the zoo keeper, "Thanks again for your time, and the tour. But we really have to be going now. Nice meeting you again John."

Before the zoo keeper could say anything in return, Xander quickly directed all of his friends, aided by Faith, back down the hallway and out into the zoo proper.

"Gawd, rude much Xander?" Buffy exclaimed once they were out in the open.

"Yeah man, we were only in there an hour, not even that. And it was kinda cool watching Buffy play with the tiger," Jesse added. Then he seemed to do a double-take on his words and he muttered, "There is just something so wrong about that sentence."

Buffy blushed a little, but didn't try to hide any as they all quickly made their way to the exit. "So," she asked Xander, "did you see or find out anything more interesting than you saw yesterday?"

"Some things yeah," he told her. "For one thing, how many thought it strange that 'John' paid more attention to Buffy than any of us, and then let us into a restricted area, which could cost him his job if anybody finds out about it, just because of a whim decision to let Buffy see the tiger again?"

Buffy opened her mouth to protest, until she stopped to think about it, and realized that once she got over the excitement of seeing the tiger up close and personal again, the whole thing just now really had been strange. But she didn't think it was for the reasons Xander was alluding to.

"What are you thinking Xander?" Faith asked.

"He knows something. Or at the very least highly suspects something," he answered cryptically.

"Knows what?" Buffy asked as they left the zoo for the parking lot.

"About you," bringing startled looks upon him, "About whatever is happening to you. Plus, he *almost* said that you and Faith smell alike, and then he switched it around to look alike, which, no offense, you don't."

"None taken," both Slayers said at the same moment. Xander and Jesse spared a glance at each other and grinned, but let the "sibling" moment go.

"OK I'll admit, his behavior did kind of lean towards that opinion, but, other than the fact that it is a completely unbelievable concept, why wouldn't he say anything?" Buffy asked.

"Maybe he's a male were-tiger and he wants you as his mate," Jesse sarcastically remarked with a sour tone.

Xander stopped walking and the Slayers eyes went wide as the implications hit fully.

"Shit," Faith muttered.

"Fuck," Xander cursed.

"Oh you have got to be kidding me!" Buffy angrily exclaimed. "And by the way Jess, EEWWW!"

"Sorry, how was I supposed to know I would be right?"

"You couldn't, and you may, very much hopefully, NOT be right," Xander told him and they continued the rest of the way to the parking lot in contemplative silence.

Sunnydale High Library

"So B, I thought you were freaked out about this whole were-tiger thing," Faith observed as they walked into the Library.

"You like that word 'freak', don't you?" Buffy made her own observation.

"So," Faith ignored the jab, "if you want nothing to do with being a tiger anymore, why were you so eager-keen on seeing her today? And what was with the playing anyway?"

"I'm sorry?" Giles asked the group that had just come in. "You saw the tiger already? Any new information?"

"Kenda likes Buffy," Faith retorted with a wicked grin.

Buffy glared and almost growled, but held it in with a deep sigh and shrugged as she went over to the table and sat down in one of the only empty chairs. "Honestly? I'm not entirely sure. Every time I see her, every time I see that tiger I feel . . ." she trailed off.

"What?" Jonathan asked, who could never take suspense.

"Well . . ." she hesitated, "Safe. Like I was being watched over and protected."

"That may explain why you reacted to Mr. John," Jesse teased.

Buffy glared, but it didn't have any strength to it. So instead she just grinned toothily at him, and growled softly.

"Buffy," Xander called in warning, bringing the playful Slayer back under control.

"No Giles, sorry to say not much new information," the rune-bearer explained. "Although, there is some anonymous person with a lot of money, working through a company called AngelsR'US, who seems to want this tiger very badly. Enough to pull a lot of strings to do it too. I'm willing to bet that if we can find out whoever wants this tiger so bad and why, we'll be that much closer to figuring out what happened with Buffy. I'm going to make some inquiries, see what anybody knows about this AngelsR'US." He started walking back to the office, asking as he went, "You don't mind if I use the phone do you Wes? Didn't think so, thanks!" With that he shut and locked the door behind him.

"B-b-b-but, my office," Wesley whined as the door locked.

Rather than pull out his foldcom, Xander smirked evilly as he picked up the phone and said into the dial-tone of the receiver, "Merlin."

Half a moment later, the dial-tone was replaced by the rather exasperated sounding voice of the Avalon AI. "Commander, it would be far more expedient, and to be truthful, less troublesome if you would use the approved communication devices."

Xander grinned, getting a small kick out of annoying the ancient computer. "Sorry to trouble you Merl, but I need a favor of sorts, and I need to use the phone after we're done anyway."

Xander barely detected the mumbled, "Don't call me Merl," but he ignored it and continued with his "request" of the AI.

"Find out everything you can about a company calling itself AngelsR'US," the Kine Commander ordered. "And especially about any executives that may have recently made any donations to the Sunnydale Zoo. Something fishy is going on with this tiger thing, and Buffy is convinced that whoever is after the tiger that she's bonded with is up to no good. I have a hunch myself, and I'm going to try to follow up with the rest of my connections, but I'd like to know what you can dig up."

"Of course Commander. I'll contact you on secured Kine communications once I have the requested information," Merlin replied, the stress he put on certain words not lost on Xander. But neither did they phase him in the slightest.

"Oh, and one last favor, can you connect me through to the Townsend Detective Agency?" Xander laughed as his enhanced hearing only barely detected a muted digital grumbling over the line.

Townsend Detective Agency

Bosley looked up, startled somewhat when the phone rang about five minutes after 6 PM. He knew it couldn't be Charlie, for one thing it was the wrong phone, and the other, Charlie only called, and promptly at 9 AM. What startled him though was that it was a completely unlisted number that only, and only the Angels knew.

Hesitantly, Bosley walked over and picked up the receiver. "Uh, hello?" he answered cautiously.

"Hey, Bosley right?" the young sounding male voice said. "Is Natalie there? I need to ask a favor of her. It's Xander."

Bosley rolled his eyes, half in relief, half in heavy annoyance. "Oh, so this is the infamous Xander that the girls just can't quit talking about."

Xander laughed. "The way those three go at it, more like Dylan and Alex teasing Nat about me. Anyway, is Natalie there? I would have called her cell phone, but I distinctly recall her saying it got broken the other week and she hasn't given me the new number yet."

"All right, all right, I'll get her. Mind if I put you on hold?" Bosley asked.

"No, that's fine," Xander replied.

Bosley then hung up the phone, with a smile, and walked out of the room, his smile getting bigger with every step.

Sunnydale High Library

Xander jerked back and stared at the dial tone ringing phone in his hands. With a sigh, he put it back to his ear and said, holding back on the string of curses he was sharing with Elan at the moment, "Merlin."

The dial tone ceased and that was enough for Xander, "Can you find out Natalie's new cell phone number?"

"Of course Commander," Merlin answered, "555-2563, with the LA area code." The dial tone then returned.

Growling, and now sharing another string of curses about uppity, snot-nosed A.I.s, Xander dialed the number, committing it to memory. After three rings, it was picked up, and a much welcome voice answered, "Hello?"

"Nat? It's Xander, I need a favor. Oh, and what took you so long to get me your new cell number?" he said all in one breath.

"Xander? What? Hey! How did you get this number? No, wait, never mind, I don't think I want to know," she muttered angrily. "As for why it took me so long, it's because I only picked up this phone less than ten minutes ago!"

"Oh," Xander was surprised.

"What favor? Need to save Europe from bring sucked into Hell?" she muttered sarcastically.

"Nah, that was last month, and thankfully somebody else took care of it for us," he answered, grinning at the look he imagined was on her face. "I need your special expertise. Can you guys track down and find out if anything fishy is going on with a company called AngelsR'US? No joke or prank either. Someone, using that company as either a front, or maybe the CEO of the company, is meddling in some stuff locally that we would like to stop. Can you do it?"

"Y'know, normally we only get missions from Charlie," Natalie remarked with a casual air.

Xander smiled, "Well, this isn't a mission, I'm just asking you to do some digging, not fully infiltrate them for some espionage. Well, not yet anyway. I've got Merlin checking their recorded activities and resources, but as we both know, many companies have unrecorded activities that only people like you girls can find out."

"Well, before I commit to anything Mr. Harris," Natalie spoke mock-seriously, grinning herself as she knew just how much Xander hated to be called 'Mr. Harris', "tell me why you need this done? As much as I trust you, without Charlie okaying it, I can't just pull out company resources any old time I feel like finding out every little detail about someone."

"Sure you could."

"Beside the point," she snapped, blushing furiously on her side, "Why do you need this company looked into?"

Xander sighed, mentally debating it for all of ten seconds before he finally answered, "Something happened to Buffy recently. As a result, an animal, specifically a tiger at the Sunnydale Zoo, has come into danger of being bought by a man using AngelsR'US to do the business end of it. In order to help Buffy, we need the tiger to stay as close as possible, and to be quite frank, I'd like to know why a company with the name AngelsR'US would even be interested in buying a sick tiger."

Natalie was quiet on her end for several minutes, and when she came back, her voice had a steel edge to it. "I'll see what I can do Xander. I'll get back to you as soon as I can." Then the both of them hung up together, Xander with a sigh of trepidation at the possibility of sending his girlfriend into possible danger, Natalie with a huff of indignation and resolve at anyone hurting the blonde girl she had met in Sunnydale.

Main Library

"So the tiger responded to you?" Giles asked, for the second time, just phrased a little differently.

"Yeah, I guess so," Buffy said as she turned another page on the book in front of her. Unlike everyone else though, it was not an ancient tome of demons, magic, and threats to the world. It was the book of military hand signals and tactics Xander had given to her in November. She still hadn't gotten all the way through it, but occasionally did pull it out, since Xander was still adamant about her learning the "language" before letting her join on any of the group's "hunts".

"In what way?" he asked for clarification.

Buffy shrugged, and looked up from her book, her eyes rolled up in thought. "Well, I guess . . . kind of in the same way a pet would. Having never owned a pet, I can't say for sure, but she followed me around, sat still when I wanted her to be still and let her know it, and she did other stuff too. Like purred louder, or made a kind of half growling sound that kinda made me smile. Like whenever Mom and I hug. I can't explain it very well. Sorry guys."

"Hm, that's somewhat strange, especially given the fact that the tiger is wild, and was never in captivity before now," Giles observed.

"Yes, quite," Wesley added, trying to sound like he was on the same page as Giles, or maybe a book ahead.

Buffy bared her teeth and snarled at Wesley, a very tiger-like growl coming loudly from her throat. Squeaking, Wesley scurried back from the Slayer, looking like he was about to wet his pants. The other teenagers, Faith and Jesse especially, giggled somewhat at the scene, while Giles was trying hard to cover up the wide grin on his face with a stern look.

At that moment, Xander came out of the office, and everyone instantly went back to their reading, like the teacher had just walked back into the classroom. Xander paused, recognizing the feeling of the room, and sighed deeply. The absolute last thing he wanted to be was "the Big Guy in Charge", because aside from the responsibility, the teasing behind his back and being left out of the loop of jokes was something he feared almost as much as he feared becoming his parents.

"All right, the sun's almost down, and I need to head back home to get my patrol gear. Faith, you coming, or are you staying here to help the G-men?" he asked.

Faith gave him a skeptical look. "Gee, stay here, read musty old tomes, and fight with the smart G-man over the last jelly donut, or," Faith stressed the conjunction, "go out and risk my life slaying demons and the forces of darkness?" Holding up her hands in a balance scale, she glared at Xander and sarcastically retorted, "Gee, that's a no-brainer."

"Well, if you're sure you want to stay here . . ." he trailed off, a grin forming on his face.

Scowling, the dark Slayer got to her feet and snapped, "Grab your coat boytoy!" and then stalked out the double swing doors.

"Hey, seeing as I'm too dumb and don't know enough to help out around here, why don't I join you guys? Besides, I've got the feeling after this whole mess is over you and the G-men here are going to make another rule where I can't patrol alone anymore." Buffy offered.

Xander smiled, "You're right. We probably will. But not tonight Buff."

"But," she stood up, making him halt for another moment, "Look, I've been reading this book you gave me. And I promise not to go off and do the lone wolf thing, and I'll even stick to you or Faith and only do what you say. Please?"

Xander seemed really torn for a moment or two, before he finally came to a decision. "Sorry Buffy. It's good that you've been studying, and I appreciate the offer. I really do . . ."

"But," she inserted with a crestfallen expression.

"But," he sighed, "not with everything that's happening at the moment. And from what you told us happened last night, which is that you apparently blacked out, went patrolling and wound up in a tree with only a vague recollection of how you got there . . . I'm sorry, but I'm not in the mood for playing chase the Tiger Slayer."

"So what's to stop me from going out on my own again?" she challenged.

He didn't even turn around this time as he answered, "Just go home and get some sleep Buffy. I'll see you tomorrow," and then he followed Faith out the door.

With a roar of frustration, which for once was not tinged with anything tiger in it, Buffy turned around and left the Library before anybody could stop her. She only made it to the parking lot in time to see KARR taking off with Xander and Faith inside.

Breathing, trying to get a hold of her emotions, Buffy calmed down and decided she might as well go home. It was easier to control herself there.

En route to Xander's place

"So why do you really want B to stay home?" Faith asked Xander as they drove along at 100 mph.

Xander sighed.

"Three reasons," he answered, "One, the reason I gave her, something is happening to her that she can't control, and when she went on patrol last night, she blacked out and doesn't remember much beyond a vague recollection. Two, despite her willingness to follow orders and her studying and even whatever advantages these new were-tiger powers give her, she's still too much of a loose cannon to rely on. You know the game and I trust you and know what you can do while you know what I can do. Buffy doesn't."

"OK, so what's number three?" she asked, trying to hide her blush from Xander's compliments under her bluster.

"Uh, well," Xander squirmed a little bit, but finally answered, "I basically just don't think I need to be around her right now. At least not until she can control herself a little better."

"Huh? Why?"

"Nothing, never mind," he ended the conversation with a tone that Faith knew he wasn't going to talk anymore about it, not because he didn't want to talk about it, but because he still didn't understand it enough to talk about it.

Townsend Detective Agency

Natalie frowned slightly as she typed another command into the computer's search engine. Only five results came up, causing her to frown again, but in confusion this time.

This computer was connected to every major police organization in the world, including the FBI, NSA, Interpol, and Alex had even assured them she had managed to get a tap into the CIA database. She, or one of the other Angels could find out more about their next door neighbors and the guys that delivered their mail than those people knew about themselves.

So why was it that when she typed in this AngelsR'US company, she only got five results? And on top of that, as she browsed the findings, it was only links to documents on the company's tax records, employee database, the company's own website, and two encrypted files which the computer, even trying some of her own hacking techniques, absolutely refused to decrypt.

All of a sudden, Natalie jumped in her seat when the phone right beside her rang.

Surprised, and trying to still the rapid beating of her heard, she quickly looked at the Caller ID and was shocked to find that it read "Charlie". Confused, excited, and worried, as both Alex and Dylan were out, and Bosley was down in the kitchen, Natalie turned on the speaker phone Charlie's voice normally came from and answered the call.

"Charlie?" Natalie asked, not entirely sure that this wasn't some kind of prank. To her immediate relief, Charlie's baritone answered with a comforting, yet anxious sounding tilt to it.

"Yes Natalie it's me," he answered.

"Is something wrong? You usually don't call this late," she observed. It was well past 6 o'clock at night. "The others are out at the moment, but if it's an emergency . . ."

"No, no, that's all right," Charlie quickly assuaged her. "I'm calling for a different reason from a case. Why are you investigating AngelsR'US?"

Natalie blinked, surprised yet again, and then blushed as feelings of guilt and shame flooded her. Charlie was like a father to her and the others, and here she was trying to go behind his back, investigating some company with Angel resources all because her boyfriend asked a favor.

"I'm sorry Charlie, it's just . . . Xander needed a favor because something has happened to a friend of his and this AngelsR'US company somehow seems to be in the middle of it," she answered all in a rush.

"Xander huh?" Charlie repeated, sounding exactly like a father who disapproved of his daughter's boyfriend and blamed him for delinquent behavior.

"Charlie, I-I know that I'm not supposed to use agency resources unless its for a case, but . . . but this friend of his, her name is Buffy, and something happened with a tiger at the Sunnydale zoo, and I don't know all the details, but all I do know is that Xander asked for my help in finding out as much about this company as he could so he could figure out what to do himself, and all I've found so far are the squeaky clean stuff and two encrypted files."

"I know," Charlie replied easily, "I encrypted them."

It was Natalie's night to be surprised nonstop apparently.

"But . . . why?" she couldn't help asking. Then it clicked. "Unless this mysterious CEO that is interested in a certain tiger at the Sunnydale Zoo, which Xander's friend has become entangled with, happens to be one of your "old friends"? C'mon Charlie, spill the beans, what's this all about?"

"I was actually about to ask you that," he chuckled. "But I'm more interested to know what a girl, a young girl from your descriptions of this Xander character," Natalie couldn't help grinning at the tone in Charlie's voice, "would be interested in any tiger, let alone a specific one."

Natalie frowned. Ever since their adventure with Xander and the SWAT vamps, and after the Angels had told Charlie about what they had learned, that demons and vampires were real, they'd been opening up some side avenue investigations into the paranormal and supernatural. Their searches had clued them in that a lot of the "myths & legends" from unlikely, but still credible sources, may indeed be the truth they were looking for. Including one in particular legend that Xander had shared with Natalie once.

"She's the Slayer Charlie," the blonde finally admitted to the speaker box. She didn't need to explain. Charlie knew exactly what that meant.

He was silent for a brief moment, before he spoke again, more urgently this time, and just as shaken as she had been when Xander had told her. "I'll call back in a little while. I have to check something with my . . . friend," and then he hung up, leaving Natalie with even more questions than what she had started out with, and not even a single answer to show for it.

Summers Residence

Buffy slammed the door shut as she entered her home, almost roaring with frustration, and that was literally. She didn't though, and just stood in the foray seething for several long moments, trying to calm herself. That she had been trying to do so the entire way home from school didn't seem to have helped any, but she thought it was worth another try.

Finally, giving up, she just stalked up the stairs, hoping to avoid any difficult questions from her mother and sister. Like, for instance . . .

"What happened to put you in such a bad mood?"

Buffy stopped at the top of the stairs, staring right into the face of her younger sibling, who looked more confidant and in control than the blonde felt at the moment, ticking her off by just one more point.

"That's none of your business dweebmeister," Buffy retorted and moved around the brunette to get to her own room.

"Uh huh," Dawn drawled, "And it's supposed to be Dawnmeister, not dweebmeister."

Buffy nearly growled, but merely let it out the way a normal person would. "Gawd, what is it with you and him anyway?!" she shouted at her sister suddenly, causing the younger Summers to jump in surprise.

"For starters, you trust him, a perfect stranger, and a dangerous one at that, more than you trust me! You're own sister! And he's always being so nice and understanding to you, and it's like you two are related or something, and I'm getting sick of it!" Buffy threw her things to the floor and started pacing back and forth. Like a caged tiger, the thought crossed Dawn's mind as she watched.

"I . . . I-I, I didn't know you f-felt that way," she timidly answered, trying to understand why her sister was so upset.

The Slayer just continued to pace, seeming more agitated than when she'd come home.

"Well, I-it's just, I can't really explain why I like Xander, but he is Mikki's legal guardian, and she is my friend, and . . ." Dawn trailed off when Buffy landed her with a look so intense she was surprised she was still alive.

"Don't give me that! There is something going on between you and Xander that the two of you are keeping secret. Him, you, all of those women that he hangs around, and even that weirdo friend of his, Giles. They're all in on this secret, whatever it is, and I'm getting sick and tired of being left out of the loop because of this connection you all have!"

Buffy resumed pacing, and then shouted suddenly, "I'm the Slayer for crying out loud! I'm the Chosen One! I'm the one that is supposed patrol and kill demons and do everything, and here's this Xander freak. One step ahead of the vamps, and goes on total panic the moment something he didn't expect happens, and along with his uncanny X-men, takes over my job and telling me to stay at home so I don't get hurt. Hah."

Dawn winced at the harsh laugh her sister coughed out, becoming more and more worried with each pace her sister completed. This was bad. Maybe she should call Xander, see if he . . .

No, she decided. Xander was the crux of Buffy's problem at the moment. If she knew her sister, and she thought she did, the problem was that Xander had taken whatever small amount of control Buffy had over her life. Not that Buffy was a control-freak, but she definitely had to have final say, in Dawn's experience of past and future Buffy.

"You know what, I don't care what he says, I'm going out," the blonde announced and went over to her weapons chest and pulled out several wooden stakes and bottles of holy water, and a crucifix or two.

"Buffy," Dawn tried to reason with the distraught Slayer, "but what about Mom? And if Xander told you to stay in, than that must mean that something big is going on and you might not be able to handle it."

"Tell Mom I'm hanging out at the Bronze to do some tutoring with Willow," Buffy snapped, already knowing she and Dawn were the only ones in the house at the moment. That in mind, she went down the stairs to the back door rather than out the window, since the sun still shown some light in the sky.

"But Buffy!" Dawn cried out with worry, chasing after her sister until she reached the back door, which the Slayer had already run out of. And disappeared shortly after doing so. "Great," the youngest Summers grumbled to herself. Now she had to call Xander.

Chapter Three

"What the hell am I thinking?" Buffy asked herself as she strolled along one of Sunnydale's many cemeteries.

She had run out impulsively, not even sure of her reasons why she was so upset and why she wanted . . . no, needed to patrol so badly. And now she was switching between looking for vamps while looking for Xander to looking for vamps to slay while avoiding Xander.

Unfortunately, no vamps were to be found yet that evening. At least not by her. Sighing, Buffy twiddled the stake in her hands before deciding to move on to the next hotspot she knew about over in Restfield. Then, in a rather blatant and selfishly stupid use of her Slayer powers, she took a running leap, easily clearing her maximum height distance to land nimbly on the roof of one of the mausoleums. From there she could easily see the entire graveyard.

For just a moment, she felt the tiger instincts within her surge and knew her eyes had changed again, like she had seen in the mirror at school. But that didn't matter as her senses nearly exploded with intensity and she now knew for a fact that there were no vampires in the immediate area. But there was a faint scent trace leading towards another area.

A moment later her eyes returned to normal and she actually felt normal, and other than being on top of a mausoleum, she was perfectly fine and she did remember willingly jumping up here, so no harm no foul. So far.

Taking a running gait for the edge of the stone roof, at the last possible second, she leaped from the stone structure in the general direction of the scent trail, landing on the roof of a house not too far from the edge of the cemetery. Only about twenty or thirty feet. She had jumped farther from her time with Pike in Vegas and she had to hold him as they leaped from the roof of one of the casinos to escape the vampire bouncers that had been trying to "toss them". That, she had been sure, was at least a hundred feet, half a football field almost.

Restfield Cemetery

"Damn it!" Xander cursed, "What the hell is she thinking?"

"What is it?" Faith asked, curious as Xander slammed his cell phone shut and pocketed it.

"Buffy," he answered gruffly, "That was Dawn, calling me to say that Buffy just ran out of the house complaining about how I've been short-changing her in the slayage department. Just not in so many words. We've got to find her and make sure she isn't in any kind of trouble."

"B? In trouble? X-man, I think you need to take a step back and remember who we're talking about here," Faith snapped at him. "Even before your trip with Elan through the great unknown, she could handle herself, and she was the best Slayer in over a century before I was even called. Just because you have a little bit more knowledge, better resources, and a tiny bit of insight into how things are going to turn out doesn't change the fact that this is still B. The best damn Slayer in over a century. Not counting yours truly of course."

"Of course," Xander smirked, feeling just a little bit better because of talking with Faith.

"But then again," he added to her statements, "this whole were-tiger thing didn't happen the first time around either. It changes thing. In more ways than I want to imagine right now."

"Gotta have faith X," the dark Slayer remarked, her typical cocky grin etched onto her slowly maturing face.

Whether by coincidence or design, at that precise moment, almost two dozen vampires appeared out of the shadows and from behind gravestones like the proverbial Dracula out of the mist. Rather than start a banter or even deliver some intimidating threat however, all of the vampires just growled a bit louder than normal before rushing forward all at once for the duo.

"Was it something I said?" Faith asked, suddenly nervous as the warriors' instincts took over their reaction and they drew their firearms, firing automatically without need of aiming, considering their opponents were packed in so close together.

Xander didn't answer concentrating more on the enhanced data his senses were allowing him, giving him only the minimal advantage so that he managed to target and destroy as many vampires long-distance as he could. There were just too many of them and just before he would have been forced to start shooting point blank, he holstered his guns and summoned Elan to his hand, Faith following suit with her blade and stake a beat after.

<Damnit!> Xander cursed internally as he worked overtime just to keep up, <What the hell is this about? I thought we took out most of the vampires with the last few raids! There shouldn't have been this many together like this. And it's like they were waiting for us!>

Moving as fast as they possibly could, even Faith was slowly losing ground against the mob attack by the vampires. "Damnit X! We gotta run!" Faith finally shouted over the vamps. The vamps just growled louder in response and made more effort to press down on the fighters.

Xander knew they wouldn't survive at this rate and even with dwindling odds, they were still outnumbered three to one. Unfortunately he was running out of ideas as no matter how hard he tried, the vamps kept him and Faith from getting clear enough to actually do anything.

Elan was silver lightning in his hands, each time the staff struck out, another vamp dusted. Faith was Slayer efficiency at its best, tempered with military and martial arts training, she was a vamp killing machine set to high. But no matter the skill, no matter the power, no matter the sheer luck two of the best warriors for light had, all of these things don't matter a whole lot when the odds are just plain stacked against you.

So what else could they do beyond fight their very hardest, knowing they might very well lose in the next second?

Even the odds.

An echo of thunder passed throughout the graveyard, but there was something more to it that sent a chill up the spines of every creature there, human, demon or otherwise. An ingrained instinct that went beyond basic fight and flight, something that was input into our genetic structure for millions of years, perhaps even more starting with the very first mammals that ever existed in the universe.

For just an instant, the momentary breath of time after the echo passed, everything froze. Not like time stopped, which at least one person in the graveyard had experienced before, but more that everyone tensed up, waiting, listening with bated breath, or the equivalent for a vampire.

And then the breath passed and the fighting resumed where it had left off.

Until a new player entered the field.

A shadow among the shadows detached itself and stalked forward, nearly undetectable and most definitely not noticed.

A vamp at the back suddenly dusted, it's throat ripped out so thoroughly that it's head fell off. Another, drawn back into the shadows, only it's deathcry evidence of it's passing into it's final death.

Finally the demons began to realize there was another one besides Xander and Faith to be worried about, and right about the time they all realized this, a creature fell from the sky into the midst, right between Xander and the bulk of the vampires that remained.

Blonde hair cascaded like the leaves falling in the autumn. Strong muscles tensed and rippled slightly beneath healthy tanned, well-toned skin. And glowing yellow tiger eyes shone through the darkness, and put the fear of death into death itself.

A heartbeat later, Buffy the Vampire Slayer struck, doing what she did best.

Xander and Faith both dusted maybe one more vampire each, but by the time they were done with that, Buffy, amazingly enough not really moving faster than normal, just . . . better, had already cut down the rest of the demons until only one was left.

It had hung back from the rest, planning on getting a few licks in that would finish off the pair of dark-haired hunters that had been killing most of the vampires in the area. This, however, was not in the plan, it decided as it turned and ran away as fast as it could.

Buffy, attracted by the movement, saw the creature take off, and smiled in a feral way to herself, instincts bubbling that enjoyed the thrill of the chase, of the hunt.

Xander saw the vampire too, but before he could cry out, "No, Buffy, wait!" she was already moving, again, not faster than Xander knew she could run, but definitely to the extreme he had ever seen a Slayer run before.

Seeing it had a lead on her, Buffy took a running leap at a nearby tree and without even pausing, landed and then leapt again off of a low branch, into the branches of another tree, and from there, she gained enough height to pounce on the vampire from behind, quickly rolling with it and restraining it by pinning its arms beneath her legs and growling softly in its face.

Moments later, Xander and Faith caught up, the former gasping slightly for breath. After a moment though, he regained control of his breathing with a little help from the voice in his head,

"Buffy," he started, but was interrupted when Buffy, speaking quite clearly and with no trace of tiger in her voice, snapped at the vampire, "Who sent you? Why were you all just waiting there for them? ANSWER ME!!"

"M-m-m-Mayor," the vamp stuttered, terrified more than he'd ever been in its entire existence, alive and undead. "H-h-he c-c-controls the town. H-hired us t-t-to take care of a few errands he said. He n-needed the Seraphim out of t-th-the w-way. S-s-something about him asking too many questions in the wrong place. T-thats all I know, I swear!"

Buffy sneered, her eyes flashing yellow briefly before other, Slayer-type instincts, brought a stake to her hand and slammed it into the demon's unbeating heart before it even knew it was dead.

Xander growled to himself, over different reasons, but the prevalent was the new information from the impromptu and brief interrogation of the vampire. <Shit! I was hoping I wouldn't have to deal with this so soon. Hell, I shouldn't have to be dealing with this yet. The Mayor is supposed to be quiet until the time for his ascension. What the hell is going on here?>

"So," Buffy interrupted his thoughts, getting to her feet, for all accounts appearing to be herself once more, "Seraphim, huh? Wesley mentioned that name after you first introduced yourself. I take it that you, or Faith, who fights pretty good for someone who's supposed to be as normal as anyone who fights to save the world on a regular basis can be, is this Seraphim? I want some answers Mister Harris, and no more dancing around or saying I don't need to know. I'm the Slayer, and whether you like it or not, we're both in this fight, and I'm telling you right now that I need to know. Who the hell are you?"

Xander stared at her, seeing the conviction there in her eyes, and knowing he couldn't get out of this easily. He didn't bother glancing over at Faith, pretty sure of what he'd see there. As much as she and Buffy had conflicted in the last time line, and as much as they still grate on each others nerves here and now, he knew the dark slayer respected her "predecessor". She believed that Buffy was strong enough to handle the truth. Maybe not all of the truth, but the gist of it.

Xander knew the Slayer was strong enough, he just knew she, and the others, just weren't ready for it. Yet.

"Buffy, you're not ready to . . ."

"BULL SHIT!" she spat in his face. "No more games Seraphim! Now either give me some god damned answers or we are no longer friends. I'm the Slayer. That means that it is my damned responsibility to save the whole god damned planet! And unless you give me a very good reason to trust you right now, I'm going to start thinking that you're one of the things I have to save it from."

Faith was between them in an instant, glaring at the Slayer, her fists balled tight. "You'd have to go through a lot of people to make good on that threat B," she warned. "Starting with me."

"Faith," Xander put his hand on the brunette's shoulder, pushing her to the side slightly, "She's right. If she can't trust me, or any of us, she has every reason to view us as the threat and react accordingly. I need to talk to her. Do you think you can finish up if you get Angel?"

"Yeah, not a problem," she answered, not taking her eyes off of Buffy.

A moment later, Xander gestured back towards the woods, "C'mon Buff, let's take a walk."



Valid XHTML 1.1! Valid CSS!