Chapter 6: FATES
The furry processional made its way down the city streets.
“We gotta stop.” complained Buffy and the group came to a halt.
“What's up, Fluff?” Catalan lay sprawled on Rupert's back, riding him.
“It's Buff! Oh... I'm gonna.” Buffy's sides contracted and her throat seized.
“Must be all that grooming,” remarked Xander.
Buffy threw her head down and expelled a huge fur ball.
“Bloody hell!” Giles moved to her side. “Are you all right now, Buffy?”
“Ya. Better. I'll just.” she moved to lick the digestive juices off the pavement.
“Ewww,” remarked Anya and Catalan in unison.
“Um... Buff, you don't have to do that.” Willow closed her eyes and turned her back.
“Do what? I'm... Ewww. I gotta get back into skin. This is just too disgusting.” Buffy moved away from the fur ball.
“Um... Guys, it's getting light and were only halfway to the campus,” observed Riley.
“We should find a place to hide,” agreed Willow.
“No. I feel it might be better if we attempt to enter Tara's dorm while she is in class. I want to push on.”
“I'm with the G-Cat here. Sooner I'm back in skin the better,” agreed Catalan.
“OK, let's get going then.” Buffy broke into a run and headed towards the intersection in front of them.
“Buffy. Stop. Be careful Look both wa...” called Rupert.
Buffy sped into the intersection a blur of multi coloured fur.
The mechanical beast of steel and rubber sped towards her, its headlights glaring, predatory eyes, the roar of its engine deafening.
Buffy froze. Something in the mix of cat and human refused to move as she stared at certain death.
A missile of ginger fur streaked into the street ramming into the slayer, momentum driving them both away from the steel beast, but not enough.
“Mroooooo hu...” Willow flew through the air and fell to the ground at the road's edge.
“Willow!” Rupert raced to the ginger tabby's side. The others close behind.
“Rupert.” Willow whispered as she stared up into his tortured face.
“Willow. Oh Gods don't die.”
“Like to stay, gotta go, Rupert, I lo...”
“NO!” Rupert's scream was like thunder echoing through deep mountain chasms. It seemed to last for ever.
“Aw shit!” Catalan climbed off Rupert's back and nuzzled his cheek. “She was a good one.”
“She was the finest person I ever knew,” he replied.
“Oh God, Will's she... I was such a bitch,” breathed Buffy then sobs began to shake her cat body.
Riley moved to her side and nuzzled her ruff in silence.
Xander stared at the small ginger body in silent disbelief, Anya at his side.
“It isn't the end,” spoke a new voice.
Rupert looked up into the eyes of a Jackal headed man.
“Please lord, don't take her. We need her here. I... I need her here,” pleaded Rupert.
“There is yet a whisper of life in her Rupert who stands guard at the mouth of hell. I have become visible to those here gathered because your service has not gone unnoticed, because this one's service has not gone unnoticed.”
“You'll help her,” breathed Buffy.
“I am forbidden by the covenant from interfering. Only the lesser servitors of the light and dark forces may play an active role in the affairs of this world, lest it open the doors to a total war that would leave your small orb shattered and lifeless.”
“Then what good are you, dog breath?” demanded Catalan.
Anubis shot the squirrel a toothy smile.
“Rupert, I do no more than what nature demands. I am the guide, but not the hand of fate. I neither spin, measure or cut the tread of life, but I do know it's measure. The thread of this cat is almost spent. The thread of the woman still has much to be measured. If only you can grant her time in this form, when the two reconverge she will have her appointed span.”
“Huh?” asked Xander.
“If he can change her back she'll be OK,” explained Anya. “Gods always talk flowery, never knew why.”
“Why didn't he just say so. We gotta run, get the stuff.”
“There is no time.” Rupert nuzzled the soft fur of Willow's ruff.
“Then you must find time, Rupert Giles,” ordered Anubis.
“How?” asked the gray tabby.
“I may not grant my power to this task, but you have power of your own. Remember the magic of your people. It is almost as old as the power I serve, and remember a magic older still, without which nothing would be.”
Rupert closed his eyes and nodded.
“What's he talking about?” demanded Riley.
“There is a magic I still have to wield, even in this form,” said Rupert. Pulling in a deep breath he forced his voice to steady against his tears and chose the vehicle for his power. He sang, at the same time reaching for the sparks of energy that everyone who had enjoyed the song had given over to it. Reaching for the magic of a thousand generations of Celtic bards.
“Bright eyes, burning like fire.
Bright eyes, how can you close in pain.
How can the fire that burned so brightly
Suddenly burn so pale, bright eyes.”
Rupert felt the power begin to gather. From ancient times the Bardic magic touched his soul. The song, a thread in the tapestry of life, the words a focus. Feeling the connection to the forces of light and healing he shifted the words, keeping the melody but adapting the song for his needs.
“Head me, sisters of fate.
Head me, spinners of the thread.
For this one I will not yield
On to nature's turn, head me.”
In a nearby house a man stirred in his sleep. A cat of mixed breed sat up from her place on his bed and listened.
“It's beautiful, but so sad. That voice is so desperate.” The cat moved to lay besides the man's head. “It reminds me of you, Rick.” She gently brushed her cheek against the man's and purred into his ear. He settled back to sleep. She stared at a picture of the man and an attractive Hispanic woman on the night stand. “I'll take care of him for you, Maria, I only wish. Oh Michele, if wishes made it so.” She settled her head on the man's pillow and drifted back to sleep.
“I call, on all the powers.
I call, by the ancient ways.
I call by the love I feel.
I call thee this day, head me.”
“To death, I will not yield.
To life, restore her unto me.
I will stand before the gate.
I will battle thee, head me.”
“What!” Xander found himself picked up and cradled in the arms of what appeared to be a exquisite girl of about fifteen. She absently stroked his fur with one hand. “What is? I. Oh that's so good,” he commented, then began to purr.
“Hello, Rupert Giles,” said a beautiful woman of middle years who reached down and stroked Anya as she rubbed around her legs.”
“Greetings's, Willow. You are early come to my shears,” said the handsome older woman who completed the three. She reached down and picked up Buffy, who wrapped herself around the woman's shoulders like a shawl and accepted her head rub.
“You cannot take her,” pleaded Rupert.
“Her thread in this form is spent, Rupert Giles. You know to all mortal things is appointed a time.”
“Sisters, this is not her true mortal form. Surely some allowance can be made?” asked Anubis.
“We are not in the practice of making deals,” replied the maid.
“She's my oldest friend,” said Xander, rousing himself from the pleasure of her attention.
“And you will be reunited in time. Form means nothing, spirit is all,” soothed the Mother aspect.
“She's done so much to help,” offered Anya.
“And there are rewards that await her,” explained The crone aspect.
“But I need her. How can I keep fighting without her?” asked Buffy.
“Youth heals,” offered the Maid.
“I will not let you take her. If you wish her, you must take us both. I won't let her go!” Rupert's back arched his claws extended and a low growl escaped his throat.
“And why is that do you think, small one? Why would a cat, a mortal transitory life, surrender all for another. Remember the true first power, Rupert. You have summoned the forces through song, now wild that which is creation to bend them to your will. There is no more room for self deception.” Anubis's voice echoed in Rupert's mind, despite the fact that none of the others seemed to hear.
“Her time is spent. She will journey to the other side.” The crone looked at Rupert with firm compassion.
“No! I...” Rupert searched his heart knowing only truth could forestall the inevitable. “I love her. I will not yield be it a thousand times a thousand years, I will be your enemy if you take her like this. Give her her time as a woman, this form she wears is a lie. In the name of love I beg you, give her her time.”
“L ... L... Love her!” gasped Buffy. She jumped off the crone's shoulders and moved to Rupert's side. “I... Giles, like we are gonna talk, but I'm with you. She stays.”
“With you there, Buff.” Xander moved to Rupert's other side; the three cats stared up at the fates.
“Oh well. You better not cheat on her Giles.” Anya moved to stand with Xander.
Riley moved to Buffy's side. “One for all and all for one.”
Catalan moved to join the cats. “Oh hell, I'm tired of eating nuts anyway. I'm in fur balls.”
The fates smiled then the mother aspect spoke. “It is not given us to create the thread, but it is true her human form has much time left. Rupert Giles, we give you a choice.”
The crone aspect continued. “Because we know loss we grant this reprieve. You may entangle your life's thread with hers, balance the time left you, so each will live as the other. Thus each day you live will be a day she lives and each she lives shall be, for you, a day. Your combined times will be shared between thee two. Do you agree to this?”
“Yes. Anything,” pleaded Rupert.
“Then it is done,” said the Maid.
“I... oh... I'm gonna hurt tomorrow.” Willow's voice said from behind Rupert.
The gray tabby leapt around and rushed to the ginger's side.
“Willow... I... You're alive.' Rupert's tail swished in joy as he rubbed his muzzle against her and purred.
“Oh wow. Buffy, is she..?”
“I'm OK, Wills. I'll look both ways from now on, I promise,” breathed the Calico.
The rest of the group closed on the ginger tabby and Rupert turned to face the fates.
“The sharing of our life threads, does it apply only to the cat form, or does it affect the human form as well?” he asked.
The Fates smiled enigmatically and began to fade from view. “Yes,” they replied in unison.
“Anubis,” asked Rupert.
“Goodbye, my friend. May it be long before we meet again. Live well, laugh often, love dearly.” The guide of those gone before faded from view leaving Rupert standing in the early morning light.
“Rupert?” Willow's voice broke his reverie and he turned to face her.
“Thank you. Buffy said. Well, I mean... I- - -.“
Rupert nuzzled her ruff. “Later, for the moment we must reach the campus, and there is still a long way to go.”
“Later then there mister. But for sure.”
“Yes, I do believe it is well past time we spoke of such things.”
“Good. Let's go get back into skin.
A crash sounded from behind the fence.
“What?” asked Xander.
Buffy leapt to the top of the fence and looked down. “Catalan, that's supposed to be for the birds.”
Catalan's voice came from behind the fence. “Hey, if they didn't want to feed squirrels, they should have added cayenne pepper.”
Buffy looked down at the rest of the scoobies. “Rodents! Why do I bother?”
Chapter 7: STRAYS
“How do we get in?” Riley crouched in a hedge staring at the entrance to Tara's dorm.
“No joy on the window, G-cat. She's in the room though.” Xander crept in to join the rest of the cats under the hedge.
Catalan ran head first down a tree and joined the group. “I made it into the showers. Some real cuties from both sides of the fence, but no sigh of the bitch.
“Willow, do you have any idea of her schedule? It would undoubtedly be best if we made our attempt while she was away from her room,” said Rupert.
“I. Let me think. Is it Tuesday?” asked the ginger who lay by Rupert, her side pressed into his.
“Wednesday?” corrected Catalan. “About eleven.”
“How can you be so sure, rodent?” demanded Buffy.
“Hey, Fluffy, the cuties weren't the only thing I checked out in the showers. I got a look at a guy's watch, among other things. Bet he could have given cross-eyes here a run for it.”
Riley looked up from where he was yet again grooming his genitalis.
“It's Buffy! Riley, stop that! I'm beginning to wonder if there's something you haven't told me,” snapped the calico.
“She has a contemporary art class at two. If she bothers to go. Bird course or what,” said Willow.
“Don't mention birds. We all missed breakfast,” remarked Anya.
“We'll need a diversion so we can get into the dorm.” Rupert gnawed at an itchy spot between his toes.
“Fluffy could do a striptease in the quad. I'd find that plenty diverting,” suggested Catalan.
“Buffy, and like you are such a pain.”
“Wouldn't work until we're back in skin,” mused Riley.
“Riley,” threatened the Calico.
“Children,” interrupted Rupert.
“We could pull the fire alarm, that would empty out the dorm at least,” suggested Willow.
“Ya, but how do we get in?” asked Xander.
Willow watched Rupert sleep, a expression of deep concern on her face.
“Hey, Red, what's up?” asked Catalan, who lay in the hedge above her.
“Me... I well err.”
“Scary isn't it.” Catalan scanned the other sleeping cats beneath the hedge.
“Being a Cat?” asked Willow.
“Being in love,” replied the Squirrel.
“I... I'm not. I'm well.. I dated Tara which means I'm a... Well I... Oh goddess back in high school I had such a crush on him and if only.”
“If only?” asked Catalan.
“Well I dated Tara. Chose her over my boyfriend when he came back, and well... How can Rupert love me. How can I love him back when I'm a- - - “
”Red, you ain't bugger all unless you want to be.”
“But I dated Tara.”
“Yeah, we both made that mistake. Look kid, let me tell you a story.”
“I'm really not in the mood.”
“You're gonna want to hear this one.”
Catalan scrambled from the branch and lay on the ground beside Willow. “Now, Red, if you ain't got it yet, I've been known to drive down both sides of the street. Don't get me wrong, I prefer women, but occasionally a man makes for a nice change.”
“If this is an ‘it's OK to be bi' speech.”
“Not really, kiddo. It is OK, hey, I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't think so, but this is about my girlfriend when I was in grade twelve, Denice. She was sweet, real shy and smart, pretty too, when she stopped being nervous about it. We got together just after Christmas. You see she'd been dating this guy. Started in grade eleven, before that she'd hardly say boo to anyone. I gotta say, in a lot of ways he was good for her. Told her she was pretty, put her on a pedestal. Then one night driving home from a date, a drunk T-boned him. That was that.”
“Poor Denice, that must have been awful.”
“She had it rough. I didn't know her that well, just sorta to see around. One day I go to the ladies and she's there in a stall, crying her eyes out. I mean shit, what was I supposed to do? We started talking, then she started hanging with me. I was young and stupid and so was she. I think she was shocked the first time I kissed her, but she wanted someone to hold her, to make her feel good about herself, so she kissed me back.”
“Have you been talking to Buffy or the others.”
“Na, I'll tell you, Red, people are the same, patterns repeat. I know more about you than you think, because I knew Denice.
“Any rate. We were hot and heavy for a while then I start noticing her watching guys. I may have been young and stupid, but I wasn't that dumb. I called up an old buddy of mine, Berry. He was a sweet heart, the type a lot of girls want as a friend because he's sweet, supportive and just plain nice, but they don't want to date because he's honest and considerate. In other words, boring.”
“I don't think nice guys are boring,” said Willow.
“You're smarter than a lot of girls. Well anyway, Berry and I bumped boots through a summer when I was seventeen. He was the first boy I went all the way with. I got Denice to join in on a three way. Now there's a story. I'll tell you when we're back in skin. Wow, what a night! Any rate, having Berry around just gets to be a regular kind of thing, then he and Denice started finding reasons to get together without me. I kinda bowed out. One of the last things I did before I went furry was to be the maid of honour at their wedding.”
“And this means?”
“Don't you get it, kid? Denice wasn't into girls, not really. She was into being cared about. She needed someone to remind her how special she really was. She was happier with a guy than she could ever have been with me.”
“And you think I'm the same?”
“You gotta answer that for yourself, sweetness. Truth, once we're back in skin I'd love to bang the gong with you, but I don't think it's gonna happen. I think you and Mr. Giles there got a future though. If you don't convince yourself you can't be happy with him.”
“So how did you meet Tara?” Willow started licking her paw and using it to clean her ear.
Catalan scratched an itch. “Damn fleas!
“That. Shit, that was just supposed to be a bit of fun. I was hanging out in this bar, cruising the action and I see this chicky. A little chunky but not bad, looks young. Well I went over and started chatting her up. Figure she's in the bar, she must be of age. You know some chicks just look young.
“Well, to make it short, we go back to my place and she ain't bad, so we start dating. A month later I see her and her father at the store and she's freaking. It's then I learn she's not nineteen, like she said, she's fourteen. I think “shit!” fourteen will get me twenty, so I end it. Next day I wake up with a need for nuts, and not the occasional itch I like to scratch either.”
“Fourteen. You've been a squirrel...”
“Five years and, before you ask, twenty six if I was still in skin. Little bitch lied about her age and was in a bar. How the fuck was I supposed to know? I just figured she wasn't very bright.”
“Fourteen. Goddess, she started early.”
“I wasn't the first to bang that gong, girl. She started real early.”
Michele sat on top of the fence and groomed the fur on her side.
“He called her name when he woke up this morning. I just don't know what to do, Frank.” She spoke to the German Shepherd that stared up at her from the next backyard.
“He loved her. I remember how they use to sit on the porch swing and talk. It was nice to see. All you can do is be there.”
“If only I was a woman again. I... He's a good man and so gentle. I... Dammit, I'm in love with him and not as a cat.”
“I know, kiddo. For what it's worth, I think he could love you too. I only wish I'd not been chained. I'd of taken a bite out of that blond bastard. I hate god damn vampires. Almost as much a psychotic man hating bitch vengeance demons.”
“I know it sucks, but at least you weren't random.” Michele shifted position and started licking her paw and straightening her whiskers.
“Yeah, but maybe if the bitch knew my pristine little wife had cut me off three years earlier, then boffed my brother behind my back. Well, she could have cut me some slack for finding someone that gave a damn about me.”
“Yeah. What a couple of furry losers we are. I figure, hey why not, I'm young, try everything once and it turns out she's the wicked witch of the west. Puff, I'm fuzzy.”
“Yeah. So how's the new cat food working out?”
“Fine and that new clumping litter he bought is a dream. How about you, she still talking about the vet?”
“I don't want to think about it! Yeash, being a dog is bad enough, now she wants to have me fixed. Joan never did anything by halves, I'll give her that.
Riley sprinted across the university grounds towards the relative safety of the hedge with Buffy at his side.
“Riley, look out,” called Buffy.
“Shit!” Riley recognized the uniform of the man that stepped out from behind the tree. His crossed eyes betrayed him as he steered away from the figure on the right only to discover that the one on the left was the real image. The net came down. “Buffy.” he cried as the Calico streaked under the hedge.
“I'll set some live traps. We'll have those strays cleared up in no time,” said the man in the uniform.
The Dean stood beside him. “I appreciate that. It's just the students tend to be so soft hearted, and if they take them in it can create a real problem in the dorm.” He watched as Riley was dumped into a wire cage then knelt staring at the Siamese. “He is a lovely animal.”
“Probably a pure blood. It amazes me that people will buy a papered cat then turf it out.” observed the animal control man.
“You know, my wife has been suggesting we get a cat. And a pure bread Siamese would certainly make the chair of English literature shut up about his damnable Persian. Would it be OK if I just took this fellow home with me?”
“Sorry, he has to be processed at the shelter. I can put a hold on him if you like. It will only be about a hundred to adopt him.”
“A hundred?” gasped the dean.
“Sure, pretty cheap for a vet inspection, his first round of shots and neutering.”
“Neutering!” Riley's voice echoed out of the cage.
“Neutering!” gasped Buffy from under the hedge.
“Bloody hell!” breathed Rupert.
“Don't worry, Fluffy, I'll look after you. Pity though, threes company if you do it right,” remarked Catalan.
“Fine. Put a hold on him. When should I collect him?” The Dean walked the animal control officer to the parking lot.
“I'll get the vet to do the work this afternoon and you can pick him up tomorrow.
“Um... Guys what's the rush? Hey, I may be a thoroughbred, how about stud fees. Hello, I'm not really a cat. I'm too young to be a eunuch. This is gonna cramp my social life. Please....” Riley's voice faded into the distance.
“We gotta do something,” yelled Buffy.
“All we can do is retrieve the items used to link to us. That will break the enchantment. Hopefully we can accomplish this before any lasting... alterations, have been made to Riley,” said Rupert.
“If worst comes to worst. I use to know a guy he'd look just adorable with,” remarked Catalan.
“Rodent,” grumbled Buffy.
“Was she in the room?” asked Willow.
“All clear,” said Buffy.
“I don't believe it, she actually attended a class,” muttered Willow.
“The Window?” asked Rupert.
“Closed,” said Buffy.
“OK gang, looks like operation false alarm is a go,” said Xander.
“He watches a lot of movies.” Anya explained to Catalan.
“I could tell,” remarked the squirrel.
Chapter 8: BREAKING AND ENTERING
Catalan scampered in through the half-open bathroom window and paused to stare up at a statuesque brunette with large breasts as she soaped herself. “I gotta get back into college,” she remarked before scampering to the door. She waited until it opened and a pair of legs appeared, then she scooted through.
“What the hell?” gasped a mousey blond woman in jeans and a t-shirt.
“It was a squirrel,” observed the petite ashen girl that walked with her.
“This place is becoming fucking wild kingdom. Cats everywhere, squirrels in the shower. Penny, I'm wondering what's gonna happen next?”
“Don't know, Beth, it...” Penny's reply was cut off by the door closing.
“Yeah, what's the hell mouth coming to?” said Catalan as she scampered down the hall trying to avoid the occasional student she passed. Finally her goal came into sight. High on the wall was the alarm station.
“OK Red, Fluffy, you better be ready ‘cause here goes the lot.” The squirrel bunched her muscles and leapt. Her dexterous fingers closed on the handle of the alarm and she kicked off from the wall with all her might. The bar jerked out, then her weight pulled it down.
“Bing bing bing bing bing,” Sounded through the dorm.
“What is it?” asked a student opening his door.
“The fire alarm. Probably some arsehole's idea of a joke,” remarked another.
“I guess we better go, just in case.” The first student disappeared into his room emerging with a laptop. “I wanted to work outside anyway.”
The students started walking towards the door
“Hey is that the new Toshiba.”
“Yeah. It's a honey. Fifty gig hard drive....”
The voices faded and Catalan started for the door behind which waited all her hopes and dreams.
“Bing Bing Bing.” The alarm sounded from the dorm.
“That's it,” said Xander.
“We had best get into position,” said Rupert.
Five sleek feline bodies streaked for the door just as a student pushed it open.
“Quickly,” snapped Giles as he and Xander threw themselves against the closing porthole. Willow, Buffy and Anya raced into the dorm as the door slowly pushed against the male cat's strength.
“Now,” called Rupert and he leapt into the building just in time to meet a wall of students heading for the exit.
“It's those crazy cats,” said Beth, without thinking she reached down and caught Rupert around the middle.
Penny grabbed Xander just before he was trampled by the students behind them. “We can't just let them run into a burning building.”
“Bloody Hell!” breathed Rupert as he was rushed helplessly from the dorm and the door closed behind the stampeding students.
“With you on that one, G-Cat. Hey, at least mine's cute,” said Xander.
“Xander... While I am far too much the gentleman to resort to blackmail, remember, if we are restored, Anya is still your girlfriend.”
The girls took a seat on a bench and sat petting the cats in their laps watching the events unfold around their building.
The ginger Tabby dodged the feet of a football player type dressed in jeans and nothing else.
“Nice view, very ripply.” Anya sped along behind Willow.
“Focus,” snapped Buffy.
“Sour puss!” Anya followed Willow into a stairwell.
They raced up the stairs and into the second floor hall.
“Over here, Fluffy,” called Catalan.
“That's Buffy!” corrected the Calico as she raced to the squirrel.
Willow skidded to a halt in front of the door. “Is the key still there?”
“You got it, Red. Right on top of the doorjamb, just like you said. I need a boost to get it in.”
“She left a key on top of the doorjamb?” asked Buffy.
“She kept forgetting to carry it with her. Buff, bright wasn't a major thing there, OK. We all make dumb choices,” replied Willow.
“Like guys, can we...” began Anya.
“Right.” Buffy stood on her hind legs and Catalan scampered off the doorjamb holding the key and climbed up her back.
“Hey, stop pulling,” grumbled Buffy as Catalan's small feet gripped her fur.
“Sorry, Fluffy,” said Catalan.
Catalan pushed the key home then heaved against it. It turned slowly and the lock clicked open.
“Like, good one but. Oh shit! Fire men,” called Anya.
“Distract them,” ordered Buffy.
“How?” asked Anya.
“Run between their legs. Get them to chase you,” suggested Willow.
Anya took off like an ebony missile towards the firemen.
“Hey!” One of them exclaimed.
“It's a cat. God, I hate these dorm checks. You never know what your gonna find. We better get after it.” The two firemen turned to follow Anya. “Last time I checked a dorm I opened a door and God's honest truth, there was a guy tied spread eagle on his bed with a gag in his mouth, dressed in a school girl outfit.”
“What did you do?” a chuckle could be heard from the stairwell.
“We got the all clear so I pulled out his gag and the guy asks me to just leave him because his girlfriend will be back soon and she hasn't given him permission to move.”
“Takes all ki....” the voices faded into the back ground.
“You and Riley playing games, Fluffy?” Catalan scrambled with the knob.
“Ha, ha, and it's Buffy!” None of them noticed the alarm stop.
The knob turned. Buffy and Willow both thrust their paws under the door and scrabbled at it. Slowly it swung open.
Willow and Catalan pushed into the room.
“Oh no, Tara's coming, hide!” called Buffy.
“What?” demanded Willow as the door was pushed closed from the hall.
Buffy glanced down the hall and saw them. Tara and a muscular woman of first peoples ancestry moving towards the room. She had only seconds. Throwing her weight against the door she pushed it closed then raced down the hall.
Catalan scampered around the room. We gotta hide. We gotta hide.
“In the closet.” Willow raced to put deed to word. Catalan scampered in behind her and soon they lay in a crush of clothing and a jumble of shoes.
The door opened and they heard Tara and the other woman step in.
“I Wa wa was shure I'd locked th th that. Oh w w well I always forget,” said Tara.
“I'm so glad I met you. I thought this whole school thing was going to be awful.”
“I'm glad to. You're special.”
“No I'm not. I'm not all that good a medicine woman.”
“No you are.”
“You're sweet. I'm so glad you're my friend.”
“I am you know.”
“The bitch!” exclaimed Willow and Catalan together.
“Same words?” asked Catalan.
“Exact! She give you some kind of family heirloom.”
“You bet, really early on, her grandmother's engagement ring. You?”
“Her grandmother's magic crystal.”
“Should have known. Guys use the old grandmum's ring thing all the time. Just never thought a woman would be that tacky,” observed Catalan.
“I'm kinda learning there isn't much difference.”
“Good and bad in everyone. Ebony and ivory, I love that song.” Catalan shifted around.
“Shhh. They can't hear us talk, but if you knock something over.”
“Right, I just want to see.” Catalan inched to the door and looked out the open crack.
“Oh well. I don't think she's paying much attention,” explained the Squirrel.
“Didn't take her long to get over me,” observed Willow as the sounds from the room made the activity of its occupants unmistakable.
“I think we're gonna have a bit of a wait. So you want to tell me what you're gonna do about big gray and stripey when your back in skin?”
“I... that is, if he really, well...”
“He does. Girl, it's in every move of that cute little cat body of his. He watches you like you were the most important thing in the world.”
“Well. I kinda hope you're right. I mean, it's scary. He's older and all but, Giles is well, he's Giles.”
“Smart move, kitten, a cat like that don't cross your door everyday.”
Riley looked forlornly out of his cage.
“Um... I am not a cat. I am not part of the pet overpopulation problem,” he shouted at the veterinarian who was preparing the operating table.
“Come on big feller,” said the vet as he opened Riley's cage.
Riley huddled in the back corner and lashed out with his claws. “You're not getting me with out a fight you, you, nut napper!”
“Come on, no need to be like that puss. You won't even miss them,” soothed the Vet.
“How the hell would you know? My girlfriend's the Slayer and she'll be very pissed if you do this. I...”
A leather gauntleted hand shot out grabbing him by the ruff of the neck. A second later Riley found himself pinned to the operating table and a needle pressing into the skin of his back.
“You bastard. What's say I bite yours off, you won't miss. Ha oh... Good drugs.. Nighty night.”
Henry shuffled through his house. The emptiness and silence mocked him. He'd come home early from work when he found himself just staring at his dead wife's picture. Weariness pulled at him and stripping off his clothes he collapsed into bed. The bed bounced with her landing.
“Hey, Tiger. Still got you my little love. The cat purred and reaching out he stroked her along the back. You know, I miss her. It's been almost a year and I just can't. I actually built up enough courage to ask Grace from accounting out. Shot down. Just like every woman before Maria. God, I miss her, Tiger. I mean I miss her, but I miss having someone too. I just don't know. If only I could meet a woman as sweet as my pussy cat.”
Tiger/Michele snuggled in close like she always did and purred.
Chapter 9: WAR
Catalan watched as Tara and her new friend dressed and left the room.
“That was interesting,” observed the squirrel.
“Some things I don't want to watch,” countered Willow. “She must have moved the shoe box, it's not in here.”
“Where else could it be?” Catalan stepped out into the main room with Willow close behind.
“It has to be somewhere in the room, so she retains possession of the links. Check her drawers.”
“Hey, other choice of words. I don't make the same mistake twice.” Catalan jumped on top of the dresser and managed to push the top drawer open.
Several minutes passed as the cat and squirrel ransacked the room.
“I found it!” called Willow as she dug under a pile of blouses.
“Coming.” Catalan scampered to her side and began pushing the shirts to the floor.
Willow clawed at the shoe box's lid, managing to pry it up just as the door opened.
“W w what!?” gasped Tara.
“Go for it, Red. I'll keep her busy.” Catalan launched herself at Tara's face, scratching and biting.
Willow looked into the odd assortment of items in the box. Bits of hair, pieces of jewellery, a comb.
“Hurry up Re... Urkk.” Tara grabbed Catalan and threw her against the wall with bone crushing force.
“There.” Willow spotted the earing she'd thought she'd lost. She took it in her teeth and leapt to the floor. “This is mine, you have no right to it!”
A shudder ran threw her, and a moment of blinding pain, then she lay naked on the floor, fully human. Reaching up she spat the earing into her palm and put it on.
“No!” Tara dove towards her bed while Willow rose to her feet, dizzy from the transformation.
“You've lost, Tara,” said Willow.
Tara reached under her bed and pulled out the wand of Circe.
“No. You left me. You don't deserve to be human.” Tara pointed the wand at Willow but before she could use it the redhead grabbed the shaft. The two women wrestled back and forth with it as power built along its length.
The Vet looked down at the unconscious Siamese. “You're a lucky one. No more girl problems for you. Picking up a razor he began shaving his patient's testicles.
Anya and Buffy met back at the hedge.
“Have you seen any of the others?” demanded Buffy.
“Xander and he's with that two legged hussy. It's disgusting, him laying there, her rubbing his belly. It's just disgusting. I mean.”
“Anya,” interrupted Buffy.
“Oh, all right. Giles was there too.”
“Come on Willow. I'm tired of washing myself with my tongue.” Buffy settled under the hedge to wait.
“I loved you!” snarled Tara.
“You don't know what love is. You don't own people you love.“ snapped Willow. Then she stopped trying to pull the wand away from Tara. Instead she focussed her will and released the power that was building in it.”
“No!” screamed Tara.
“Yes!” Willow pulled the wand from Tara's vanishing fingers. Then grabbing the shoe box opened the window and threw it out of the room.
“I return to all that which was taken,” she called.
Tara hissed, her long naked tail lashing, then she scuttled towards the window. The possum leapt to the branches of a nearby tree and scampered off.
Willow turned to look at Catalan, where she lay unconscious on the floor.
Michele groaned in agony as Henry's hand gently stoked her.
“Tiger, you OK I... Oh my God!” Henry moved back as before his eyes his cat expanded in size and took on new form. Moments later an attractive Hispanic woman lay naked on his bed beside him.
“Who, How?” he exclaimed. “Tiger?”
“You can call me that, but I always liked Michele,” she replied as she inspected her body.
“Don't you believe in miracles?” Her lips met his and new life sprouted from the despair of the old.
“Just a little snip. Just a little snip. Just a little snip. Just a little snip. There's a little snip for you that I know I'll surely do.” He sang the mutilated Partridge Family song as he brought the scalpel down. His patient hissed in agony then grew and expanded becoming a solidly built man perched naked on the operating table.
“What?” gasped the vet.
“I'll be keeping those, thank you! Um... where can I get some pants?” demanded Riley.
The Vet pointed dumbly at a pair of surgical scrubs that hung on the wall.
“Thanks.” Riley pulled the scrubs on before racing from the room.
“I don't care what Mildred says about snow, that does it. I'm taking the job in Yellow knife! This town is too weird!” muttered the vet.
Willow stared at the squirrel who trembled as it's last moments of life spilled from its broken body. Catalan groaned then began to grow and reform. A minute later a slender woman of African decent, with small, high breasts and shapely hips and legs lay on the floor. She blinked, looked at her hand, then turned to Willow.
“Well, Red, I was right, you are hot. You ever get tired of the Taby, you just give me a call. What happened to the bitch?”
“Out the window. I changed her into an animal suited to her nature. I... Oh boy. The rest, they're gonna be changing back.”
“This is a good thing, Red.”
“Like, I know but well, look at us.”
“Oh... Well it will give the students something to talk about.”
Willow wrenched open Tara's closet and began pulling out clothes.
Beth sat petting the gray taby. “I guess we've got some cats. At least they're a pair of cuties.”
The taby stiffened then let out a howl, a minute later an handsome forty something man sat naked on her lap. She glanced at Penny who held a good looking dark haired man of maybe twenty.
Someone yelled, “ouch!” behind them.
“Thank you very much for your attentions. You are both quite charming, but I'm afraid we are already spoken for.” Giles stood and a blush coloured his cheeks.
“You, you... wow,” stuttered Beth.
“Tara's room G- ca... man,” said Xander as he stood. Both men streaked towards the door.
“Beth?” asked Penny.
“You thinking what I'm thinking?”
Both women scanned the area and called “Hear kitty kitty kitty.”
Buffy and Anya lay under the hedge.
“This sucks. I find Xander, now I'm a cat. And he's getting a belly rub from that hussy. I should be giving him belly rubs.” Anya shifted under the hedge and started licking her haunch.
“Kinda let's you know what it was like for all the guys you did in your demon days.” Buffy scratched behind her ear with her hind foot. “I think I'm getting flees!”
“That was different. They deserved it, they betrayed women.”
“OK, so like, sometimes maybe there was a reason, but it doesn't make it right. I wasn't so bad.”
“Besides, I'm human now. My demon days are over.”
“And all is forgiven,” grumbled Buffy.
Anya looked at the calico thoughtfully. “Like, OK, so what am I supposed to do about it... Arrrrrrr.”
There was a moment of blinding pain, then the sound of snapping branches. Seconds later Anya and Buffy lay naked with the broken hedge digging into their skin.
“Ouch!” screamed Buffy as a particularly sharp twig jabbed her in the butt.
“I can't believe how much of my clothing that bitch borrowed,” griped Willow as she raced to pull on a T-shirt and skirt.
“Good thing we're about the same size.” Catalan had pulled on a blouse and skirt. Grabbing an assortment of clothes from the closet she prepared to open the door just as a knock sounded.
“Who is it?” called Willow.
“Willow, really?” demanded Rupert's voice.
Catalan threw open the door and Rupert and Xander dove into the room.
“Wow... They do look better in skin. What's up with you scoobies, you got a hottie rule about joining,” remarked Catalan as she closed the door.
Both men moved their hands in a vain attempt to cover themselves.
“Rupert, Xander, where are Buffy and Anya?” Willow passed the men a pair of Tara's skirts.
“Will, I can't wear girl's clothes,” objected Xander.
“I don't mind the view handsome, but you sure you want to walk the halls like that. It's all we got.” Catalan walked over and gave Rupert a slap on the butt.
Oh well, if David Beckham can attract a woman like Posh Spice it cannot be too damming a thing.
“You know Posh Spice?” Xander gasped in disbelief.
“I am male Xander, and I am not dead or blind.”
“Hey,” objected Willow.
“Willow, I ummm.”
Catalan's smile was pure mischief. “We better get some clothes to Fluffy and Anya.”
“What, oh um... like yeah.” Willow tore her eyes off Rupert as he pulled on the skirt and fastened it around his hips.
Riley ran the three blocks form the animal shelter to the Bronze. Minutes later he'd rooted through the lost and found finding his clothes and wallet. He raced out of the club, hailed the first cab he came to, and was at the campus while the crowd was still forming.
“I can't move. It's digging into me. And...” Began Buffy.
“Hey hey, hey, cuties.” Called a male student who stood on the path watching the show.
“Being a cat wasn't all bad.” Anya tried to cover herself with her hands.
“Hubba hubba.” Gasped another male student.
“Hey, a little class, we aren't a bunch of apes,” said a slender young man with unruly blond hair as he pulled off his T shirt and passed it to Buffy. “Sorry I only have one shirt to give,” He remarked to Anya. “How on earth?”
“Thank you, please, don't ask,” said Buffy as he pulled back the branches and helped her from the hedge.
“Buff, Anya.” Willow pelted out of the dorm holding a bundle of clothes.
“Aw shit. Show's over,” remarked one of the growing crowd as Anya took a dress off the pile and pulled it on. Catalan, Rupert and Xander raced up behind Willow and helped pull back the hedge until Anya was free.
“Buffy,” called Riley as he leapt out of the cab and raced to join the group, catching Buffy in his arms he held her close.
“Riley! Aw... well... you still all there?” asked Buffy when he released her.
“Long as you like the bald look. Talk about nick of time! And I do mean nick,” he observed.
“Buffy, I hate to break up a sex show with a pair of hotties like you two, but won't campus security be here soon?” asked Catalan.
“That's Fluffy!” Buffy shouted then she looked horrified.
“Whatever you say, Fluff.” Catalan smiled like the cat that ate the cream and they started towards Buffy's dorm.
A shirtless young man with unruly blond hair watched them go. He sighed. “Oh well, it was an old shirt anyway.”
Chapter 10: Epilogue
Anya held the wand she'd borrowed from Willow. Night had fallen and the sounds of crickets filled the air.
“You sure about this. You know how woggy magic is.” Xander was on all fours by a fence in a suburban neighbourhood.
“I did a lot of things. Sometimes the men deserved them, sometimes. Xander, now that I'm human again, I can feel guilt. Maybe I just need to do this.” Anya stepped up on Xander's back so she could see over the fence. The German Shepherd lay in its dog house, asleep. She focussed her thoughts and let the wand's magic do the rest. A moment later a balding, pudgy, forty-something man sat naked in the yard, staring at his own hand.
Willow pushed the book up on the shelf.
“I finally managed to clean the bathtub. I fear my apartment will never be the same again.” Rupert entered the room.
“Sorry about that,” said Willow.
“You, as I recall, were busy reading. Buffy and her cohorts on the other hand. If it were up to me, I'd have the lot of them declawed. Where are they. They could at least help undo the damaged they caused.” Rupert smiled at his own whimsy.
“Last I saw, Riley had Buffy on one arm, Catalan on the other, and a really stupid smile on his face. They were heading towards his room.”
“Oh well. There is something to be said for being young.”
“Not much.” Willow looked dejectedly at the floor.
“Willow. None of this was your fault.”
Willow collapsed onto the tattered couch. “All my relationships end in disaster.”
Rupert sat beside her. “That doesn't mean you should stop trying. Willow, you are a wonderful, beautiful, warm, intelligent, compassionate, sweet woman. Anyone would be lucky to be with you.”
Willow looked into the eyes of the man beside her. In their emerald depths she saw more than his words could ever say. Even in her teenage fantasies there had never been the depth of devotion and love she now knew was real. “I heard what you said to the fates.”
“Yes... Well... If only I were twenty years younger.” Rupert looked away but not before she saw regret cloud his features.
Willow grabbed his chin and pulled his head around to face her.
“I don't care about twenty years, Rupert.”
“Now... How will you feel when I'm seventy four and you're fifty. When I'm dead and you're alone.”
“I'll have a life of memories, good ones. Besides, suppose the fates left our lives entwined. Suppose we're destined to die the same moment. In a way, I kinda like that idea. I watched my Gramps after my Na-na died. He just faded. Rupert, if we go together, that's a good thing. If I'm left, at least I'll have time to heal. One thing I do know is all my relationships end in disaster, and I can only see one way to fix that.”
“What's that?” Rupert couldn't help himself his lips moved closer to hers.
“Have a relationship that doesn't end.” Their lips met and it was good. Later as they lay wrapped in each other's arms they knew her words were more than hope, they were prophecy.
Far away three sisters, rarely known for compassion, smiled as they wove two threads into one.
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