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The Princess

Chapter Text

A woman and a man drive in a car, casually laughing and talking. They are returning home to their daughter who is a true beauty already, without knowing it. Their princess. “We’ll have to tell her soon” the woman sighs. The man looks at her for only the briefest of seconds before returning his gaze at the street. “We still have time” he replies. “She’s fifteen Dam. Back home she would be introduced to society within a year’s time” the woman insists. “But we’re not there for this very reason. We lost her once; I will not allow that to happen again. As long as she doesn’t know of her legacy or the tigers she’s safe.” Dam answers uptight. “We can’t keep this from her forever and you know it damn well. She’ll find out one way or the other sooner or later. It’s a part of her.” The woman counters. “I know Dur. I just don’t think I could bear losing her again.” The man sighs. “We’ll tell her after that party she wants to attend, alright?” The woman nods softly smiling. She has known he would give in, he always does. At least when she is right, which is usually the case.

“Maybe we should go to India during spring break. Show her where we come from. We’ll just have to be careful not to run into the brothers.” Dur suggests. Dam smiles. “Do you think they’ll still remember her? It’s been centuries after all. And that bastard of a half-brother of yours messed with their memories.” She groans in displeasure at the mention of him. She shouldn’t have stopped her mother from killing him when there has still been the chance to. “They could not forget her even if their lives would depend on it. Maybe they won’t recognize her at first but they won’t have forgotten her entirely.” Suddenly Dam’s grip on the stirring wheel tightens. “Damon, what is it?” The woman asks anxiously. “I can feel something Durga. It’s following us and sure as all 28 hells it’s not well-disposed.” Slowly black marks like a tiger’s streaks appear on Damon’s skin. First at the hands, creeping out from under his shirt, then coming out from under the neckline covering his neck and soon spreading over his face as well. Comfortingly Durga lays a small hand on his forearm. “Don’t. That’s what they’ll expect. They expect you to turn into tiger form and like that lose control of the car. All they have left to do then is direct it toward the nearest tree, something Kells could have done as a toddler had we not bound her magic.” All of sudden fear widened her eyes. “Kelsey! What if they find her?” “The protection spells are too strong. She is untraceable for magic as long as hers is not awakened or she possesses a piece of my amulet. “We’ll tell her as soon as we come home. That they are here cannot be a good omen!” Durga states bitterly. But they would not have the chance to tell their daughter anything. They would not even get a chance to say good-bye, for suddenly the car is skidding and then another vehicle crashes into the engine compartment.

That night the police recorded the death of Joshua and Madison Hayes by a car accident caused by a drunk driver.

Chapter Text

Four years later

Days had passed since Ren’s rescue. At least at first it had been days. But days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. And neither did Ren remember nor did that subtle pain in my chest lessen. I felt lost and alone, though I knew I was not. And everything I saw only added to my pain.

Honestly, what will become of me?
Don’t like reality
It’s way too clear to me

But really life is dandy
We are what we don’t see
We miss everything daydreaming.

I wished I could just turn back time. Return to when everything was fine. Before Ren was kidnapped, before I fell for him, before I set out on that stupid quest. Before I came to India, before I met him, before I came to the circus in the first place. Before my parents died in a car crash that was so horrible they didn’t even show a single picture in the news report on TV. But I couldn’t and so the only thing I could do was to retreat from the tiger brothers and Mr. Kadam. And so I passed my days, only half alive, but alive nonetheless.

Flames to dust
Lovers to friends
Why do all good things come to an end?

Flames to dust
Lovers to friends
Why do all good things come to an end?

Come to an end, come to an
Why do all good things come to an end?
Come to an end, come to an
Why do all good things come to an end?

“Do you want something too?”, Mr. Kadam asked. I shook my head. “No, thanks Mr. Kadam. I’m not hungry.” “You really should eat something Ms. Kelsey” he said shaking his head lightly in disapproval but let me be. I left the library for the upper floor. When I reached the top of the stairs, I headed straight for my room, where I looked the doors and let myself fall on the bed. The tears flowed from my eyes silently. I didn’t mind. I was empty anyways. Like all the nights before I cried myself to sleep.

Traveling I always stop at exits
Wondering if I’ll stay
Young and restless
Living this way I stress less

I want to pull away when the dream dies
The pain sets it and I don’t cry
I only feel gravity and I wonder why

The next day was no different from those before. When I got up I would refuse breakfast feigning  nausea. Then I would train, meaning five times five rows each swimming and running followed by archery and lightning shooting and man-to-man-combat with a stray puppet. Afterwards I’d avoid both tiger brothers and eventually flee to the library for research and college work before Mr. Kadam would ask me to join dinner once again which I would avoid at all costs. I didn’t try to fool myself. I was at the end. Standing on a cliff balancing over the dark abyss. I was empty, even more, I was lost. Lost without him. My tiger, my mate. My prince.

Flames to dust
Lovers to friends
Why do all good things come to an end?

Flames to dust
Lovers to friends
Why do all good things come to an end?

Come to an end, come to an
Why do all good things come to an end?
Come to an end, come to an
Why do all good things come to an end?

Back at my room I took my diary and drew without really looking at it. Starring out in the jungle instead. Actually I didn’t see anything at all. While one hand drew, the other gently stroked the serpent queen resting in my lap in her flesh-and-blood form. When I would sigh from time to time, her head would leap up and lick away my tears. I lowered my gaze once I stopped drawing. I wasn’t surprised what it was. Two heads facing away from each other, a man’s and a tiger’s. No not a man’s head. I knew bloody well whose features I had captured there. Ren. In both forms. For the first time I had drawn what he had once asked of me. Not only the tiger but also the man. As if they were mirroring each other, or were two faces on one head. In a way they were. The two faces of the man I loved. Slowly I drew a few words in Hindi in the gap between the heads: “Tumase pyara karata” [I love you] and right beyond that: “Hamesa ke li’e” [Forever] Under the drawing I wrote in curved letters his full name: Prince Alagan Dhiren Rajaram of Mujulaain. My writing held a beauty I never knew I was capable of. India had changed me in more ways than expected.

Dogs were whistling a new tune
Barking at the new moon
Hoping it would come soon
So that they could die

Dogs were whistling a new tune
Barking at the new moon
Hoping it would come soon
So that they could die

Die, die, die

A knock on my door made me look up. “Miss Kelsey? Kadam asked me to get you down for dinner” I heard Ren’s all too well known voice from the other side of the door. It killed me to hear him address me so formally. “Tell him I’m not hungry please.” I asked through the closed door. I couldn’t stand looking at Ren now. “I am really sorry but Kadam told me not to let you use an excuse. “ I sighed. Couldn’t Mr. Kadam just let me be? Well, apparently not, or Ren wouldn’t be at my door right now. I had to do something. I couldn’t stay here any longer. So I made my decision.

Flames to dust
Lovers to friends
Why do all good things come to an end?

Flames to dust
Lovers to friends
Why do all good things come to an end?

Come to an end, come to an
Why do all good things come to an end?
Come to an end, come to an
Why do all good things come to an end?

“You’re serious?” Kishan asked me unbelievingly. I nodded. “I am. I can’t stay here, not with Ren not remembering me. Maybe some distance will do the trick… this time.” I didn’t really believed in it, but it still would be easier to pretend normality in America then it was here. I would leave for the airport immediately from where I would be flown back to Oregon. My suitcases were packed and I was ready to go. Then everyone hugged me. Well not everyone. First was Mr. Kadam promising to call when something new happened, then Kishan hugged me, telling me he would knock some sense into his brother’s head. I smiled warily at that. The last to hug me was Nilima, saying she would visit soon. I smiled at all of them once more than left. I was sure I would not be surprised by tigers coming to visit me in America again.

Well the dogs were barking at the new moon
Whistling a new tune
Hoping it will come soon

And the sun was wondering if it should
stay away for a day, ‘til the feeling went away
And the sky was falling
And the clouds were dropping
And the rain forgot how to bring salvation

The dogs were tune barking at the new moon
Whistling a new tune
Hoping it would come soon
So that they could die

Chapter Text

I was back at the one place I loved most during my childhood. The cottage was small as was the island it was on, right in the middle of the little lake that had belonged to my grandparents. Here the memories were still so vivid. That night when my parents died I had stayed with my grandfather and he had held me while I cried my heart out. When he died few days later I had inherited the lake including the island and cottage. Oh how I had cried. Now I cried again but for a different reason. Now I didn’t cry for a lost family but for a lost love.

A warm morning in the spring, just before the break of dawn
you bid your farewells silently
something ended, something new began
I was still deep inside my dreams
Once again like a small child
Oh it all has changed so gravely
the very moment you were gone

And I still see it like that day
holding me safe in your arms
blowing smoke up in the sky
Sayin’ it’s gonna be okay
And you look at me so sadly
I just can’t stop myself from crying
You promise you would hold me
and I fall asleep again

I went on with my life. College, a job at a bar to have something to do, sleeping, eating, not thinking about India. Over the time it got better. I could talk to Kishan and Mr. Kadam on the phone without flinching every time I heard Ren in the background. I was alive and okay. But I was far from alright.

And out there’s spring time
though it better should snow
all around I hear laughter
why can’t I just cry?
It simply goes on
as if nothing happened
there is never an ending
why can’t I just cry?

When I did think of Ren against better judgment, I drenched in my memories, in all those happy times. His eyes so blue I could hardly find something to compare them to. Blue as the sea, as the sky, as cobalt. His alluring lips, his handsome face. The perfectly shaped body and the incredible accent. An angel descended to earth. He would always be an angel to me, no matter how much his words felt like daggers, no matter how his actions hurt me deep inside.

And I still feel it like that time
your eyes blue as the sea
saying softly that you love me
Oh I need you still so much
‘cause forever you’re my angel
no matter what you will do
‘cause I still hear your soft whisper
and I still see your laughter

And out there’s spring time
though it better should snow
all around I hear laughter
why can’t I just cry?
It simply goes on
as if nothing happened
is there never an ending?
Why can’t I just cry?

I missed him. I would always miss him. He was the one I had dreamed of for half my life, though I hardly remembered those dreams as if something was shielding them from me. He was the one I was meant to be with, the other half to me. But now I had to live without him. And I would. I would not only go on, no I would really live. Enjoy life to its fullest. But I would never stop missing him.

‘Cause forever you’re my angel
no matter what you will do
‘cause I still hear your soft whisper
and I still see your laughter
‘cause I still hear your soft whisper
and I still see your laughter

Chapter Text

The process of changing is a long one. It’s in the very nature of changements, that they take their time, that they develop. So the changes I made in my life went unnoticed for some time. I didn’t know how far I would have to go so I took baby steps at first. The very first thing I did was admitting that I should have stayed in India the first time. Ren and me, we were everything one could ever wish of a relationship. But I had to run away because I just couldn’t see it.

Say, how far is too far?
How high is the land?
How deep is the sea, how pure the sand?
Why couldn’t I see,
how good we have been?

My dream was gone and the summer seemed endless. While July had come and gone like a single day, the rest of the summer seemed to last an entire year. I hadn’t even realized how deep my mental hole was until I tried to climb out. It was harder than I had thought. All the while there would be times I’d wonder how far would be too far.

If July’s a day, then summer’s a year
where is my dream that abandoned me?
Yes, I have survived, though barely alive

How far is too far, how far is too far?
How far will I go till I can’t see us anymore?

Which way should I go? I had the choice. Which one would not just bring me back to where I started from? I chose the one that was the least like the Me of the past years. The outgoing one, the one that flirted shamelessly without ever really acting on it. I wondered who would hold me when it all would eventually crumble if not him. Who would tell me the truth, who would simply be there. On the other hand, I told myself, you’re a grown up woman, you can do it on your own.

Which train will take me
without bringing me back?
And which arm will hold me
if it is not yours?
Which mouth speaks the truth?
And how fast is right off?

Say, how far is too far?
How far is too far?
How far will I go till I can’t see us anymore?
If July’s a day, then summer’s a year
why couldn’t I see,
how good we have been?
How deep is the sea?
How pure is the sand?
Yes, I have survived, though barely alive

Slowly others noticed the changes. I did my job at the bar, I learned eagerly for college and above all I didn’t allow myself to cry. It worked. More or less…

Which train will take me
without bringing me back?
And which arm will hold me
if it is not yours?
Which mouth speaks the truth?
And how fast is right off?
And how fast is right off?
And how far is too far?

How far is too far?
How far is too far?
How far is too far?

How far will I go till I can’t see us anymore?
Which train will take me
without bringing me back?
And which arm will hold me
if it is not yours?
Which mouth speaks the truth?
And how fast is right off?
And how fast is right off?
And how far is too far?

How far is too far?

Chapter Text

Soon I was… well, not happy, but fine… or something. I was alive, now that there was no Ren anymore to remind me of my loss. But no matter how well I was during day time, when I lay alone in my darkened bedroom I had to fight the tears.

I am alright
no need to worry
And as you may see
I’m still alive

Too much of all
above all you
But I’m still here
only night is still hard

I kept up well, but I heard loud and wild music because I could not stand silence. My favorite was Bon Jovi’s Bullet. Also I took a habit on drinking a little. Never much, but enough to get a few hours of half-way decent sleep. I drank to Ren, and to the past, to the fact that I made it this far alive and in one piece. And still my nights were filled with sobs and crying myself to sleep occasionally.

I keep up well
as long it’s not silent
as long as lights are on
I look forward

I drink to you
and to our past
I am still here
only night is still hard

This is for me, I told myself, only for me, whenever I looked into the mirror seeing my now chin short shaggy hair. I painted my walls, mostly because they had been a delicate peach. When I noticed I had painted them in white with black tiger stripes I took the black paint and covered the whole walls in it. On it I spread splashes of colors. Pink, green, yellow, orange and salmon soon brought neon colors to my room. In the evenings I visited clubs, bars and pubs, enjoying being young. And still every night I would be sad, though the tears came less often as time proceeded.

This is for me
just for me
no stupid love song
this is for me
just for me
no song of us

I paint all of my walls
‘cause I need colors
I go to every pub
that’s good for me

I have a talent
for grieving
all on my own
only night is still hard

Then Nilima visited. “I’m alright” I told my friend with a little more self-confidence then I actually had. She didn’t buy it and I knew why. So I showed her my new life and soon we were laughing together, bitching about the tiger brothers and the boys you could find here. It was a fun time and I really enjoyed it. But then she had to leave and I almost was back to the start. But I could catch myself before I lost any of my progress.

This is for me
just for me
no stupid love song
this is for me
just for me
no song of us

This is for me
just for me
no stupid love song
this is for me
just for me
no song of us

I am alright
no need to worry
only night is still hard

And finally, for the first time since Ren’s abduction I was well and half-way happy. My life was back to what had been normal before the circus came to the city. Then the bar where I worked closed and I had to look for a new job. That was when the circus came.

This is for me
just for me
no stupid love song
this is for me
just for me
no song of us

This is for me
just for me
no stupid love song
this is for me
just for me
no song of us

No stupid love song
no song of us

Just for me
just for me
just for me

Chapter Text

I made my decision spontaneously. When I knew that the circus looked for someone to take care of their tigers for their three weeks stay and occasionally stand in for the trainer who had some health problems lately I just took the opportunity. Wanting to know how capable I was, the director and the trainer visited the tigers with me. They were three young males, siblings that were inseparable. I smiled at that. I knew two other brothers who had once been really close and now where on the best way back there. Proofing that I could take care of the tigers was pretty easy as I knew all the safety rules and some little tricks from my other job at the circus when I met Ren. It seemed as if the tigers immediately liked me as they came to the divider and sniffed at me and I could have bet they made that little sound of contentment Kishan had made from time to time when I had been around. When I had asked him he had explained that my presence had a way of calming and sufficing him. I smiled at the tigers. When one of them came too close to the divider and reached out for my hand I made a shooing motion out of habit with Ren and Kishan. I was utterly surprised when the young tiger did in fact retreat a bit looking at me with what I would almost call admiration. Once I was done, I saw the looks of utter amazement and surprise on the director’s and the trainer’s faces. Afterwards there were no further questions if I should get the job. Apparently the three had turned out to be quite a handful too keep in check and never had been so responsive and friendly. I smiled. Maybe that was an advantage of having lived with two part-time tigers for months (everything added it must have been almost half a year). Or it was another strange magic. I did neither know nor really care.

Time passed and I was really happy. Working with Shanyu (Benevolent), Darpan (Mirror) and Kanvar (young Prince), as I now knew where the tigers’ names, was fun and relaxing. They did what I asked of them almost eagerly and where tame like kittens around me.  Soon the tiger trainer had me do the shows so that he could rest and cure his health. My friends and foster family all made sure to come and see me as tiger trainer at least once. One day, it was the second last of the circus stay, the tigers were restless and anxious. Something was troubling them and I just couldn’t figure out what. So I let them in the training space where we all had more room and watched them carefully until I found a pattern in their restless movements. Something was here. Something they… not quite feared but highly respected. Something stronger and most likely older than them. That was the moment I noticed the young man in the crowd at the entrance. He wore a simple black shirt and dark denim jeans. I knew the shirt. It was the kind that Kishan and Ren would wear after changing back from tiger form. That was when I recognized him. Kishan. What the hell is he doing here?, I asked myself. The younger tiger prince being here either meant something very good or something very, very bad and I had the feeling the last was more likely.

Confident I smoothed my plain sharara and fixed the dupatta. For the last two shows I had something special. I had read an old Indian tale when researching with Mr. Kadam and I really liked it. So I had trained with the tigers to reenact the tale and it worked quite well especially now that I had calmed them. It was a beautiful tale of a young goddess, a daughter of Durga and her tiger, who was called the tiger princess as she was always accompanied by two tigers, one as bright as day, the other as dark as night, one a lover the other a brother. A long time she was happy but then her mother’s half-brother, an evil wizard of immense power casted his shadow over their luck. Envious on the princess’ powers he plotted her death. He tricked her into running away and when her tigers followed her she was on a path to a cliff. Not watching her steps but instead looking back, hoping to outrun the tigers she fell off the cliff and even with their ability to change into humans her tigers couldn’t safe her. So she died a tragic death. But what the tigers could do was to safe her soul, her essence and her magic and bring it to her mother so that one day she would be reborn.

When we finished, the audience wouldn’t stop cheering and clapping. But once I found my way back to the quiet part where the tigers stayed I could relax a little. “Kishan, I know you’re there, reveal yourself” I laughed sensing his presence. The prince stepped out of the shadows. “Hey bilauta. I got good and bad news. Which do you want first?” He greeted me. “Depends. If they are linked to your brother and those are the good ones, they first, if those are the bad ones, they first. If they aren’t linked to him, the bad ones first.” I replied. “And if both are linked to my idiot of an elder brother?” “The bad ones first.” I simply said. What had happened? “I’ll give you the good ones first anyway. Ren remembered something. Obviously he had made a treaty with Durga when he was imprisoned, that made him forget something incredibly dear and important to him, something Lokesh wanted. Unfortunately that’s all. The bad news is, that he has done something incredibly stupid. He saw the third prophecy and we assume he decoded it because he’s gone and we can’t find him.” I looked at Kishan. “What?!” I couldn’t believe it. I was so close to getting him back and now he was gone. My decision was clear. “Tomorrow is my last show, then the circus leaves, we will drive to the airport directly afterwards and fly to India and start to look for your brother.”

Chapter Text

When I left the plane still clad in the plain sharara I had worn for the tiger princess show I was greeted by Nilima and Mr. Kadam. I greeted them quickly before getting the prophecy from him. Reading it quickly I tried to get an idea what Ren could have seen that Mr. Kadam had missed. Then I spotted something. This stood in direct interconnection with the legend of the tiger princess. “Mr. Kadam, does Ren know the legend of the tiger princess?” “Of course he does.” “Yeah”, Kishan added, “’twas his favorite legend of all. I wouldn’t hear the end of it.” “Then I know where to start. If he knew the legend so well he had it figured out soon and we are running out of time.” I all but ran through the airport and to the limousine that awaited us.

When we arrived at the tigers’ home I rushed to the library. “Mr. Kadam, where is the copy of the legend of the tiger princess you lend me last time I was here?” I asked, walking between the shelves. “Here” the old man said, winking me to a reading table. I bend over the book and started reading. Bent over the words there were some things I recognized from the prophecy… and from my own life! Two tigers that could transform into men. Brothers and princes even more. One her lover, one her brother. She ran from them and regretted it. It was stupid I knew, I was maybe much but certainly not a goddess’s daughter. Though I did stand in Durga’s favor, I had a talent for tigers and there also was the rebirth thing. Could it be that…? No it couldn’t I looked back and forth between the legend and the prophecy until I saw it. I ran up to the safe and impatiently had Mr. Kadam open it so I could get the fruit and the cloth then I called for Kishan. “What is it Bilauta?” “We’re going. Now!” I told the tiger prince.

It was a few days’ journey to the cliffs. The cliffs where the tiger princess died in the legend. They were deep in the jungle, a waterfall, but the river was not big enough to do much help when you fell. Carefully I climbed down, looking for a cave or something similar. And in fact, there was a small cave. But once I was inside I noticed, that it was a shrine of Durga’s. A small text was written on a stone plate in front of the altar.

“To my sweet daughter:
When you come to this Shrine it means that I am gone and Lokesh once more endangers your life. But it also means, that you know of your magic to some point at least, and that you met the tigers. Know this: 

It is no curse but well a gift
a secret shared, the spirit is lift.
The curse is broken, the spells all gone,
when true love shows under midnight sun.”

I stared at the plate and couldn’t quite believe my eyes. This was the confirmation, I guessed. And if not the plate, than the other altar that was built in the cave. The one for Kalseya Hayres, the tiger princess. How could I have not seen it before? Kalseya Hayres. If you crossed out the second “a” and the “r” and made it American it was… Kelsey Hayes. I was the tiger princess.

Chapter Text

Again and again I went over the riddle, pacing back and forth in the library. “It is no curse but well a gift What could that possibly be?” I asked no one in particular. “Maybe the shapeshifting thing?” Kishan threw in, lying on a divan, “though I don’t know how that qualifies as a gift” “We’ll keep it in for now” Mr. Kadam said, adding a note to the list he was writing. My brain was doing overtime and yet we were little further than before. “A secret shared, the spirit is lift / The curse is broken, the spells all gone / when true love shows under midnight sun Maybe we are too fixed on the words? It’s a poem so maybe the rhyme scheme is of importance.” Mr. Kadam suggested. “Alright that would make two pairs of two lines each. The first would be It is no curse but well a gift / a secret shared, the spirit is lift So maybe this is about the curse Lokesh placed on them. But…” he trailed off. “Mr. Kadam? Is everything alright?” I asked, honestly worried. “Yes, yes. I’m alright. I just remembered another legend. It was about the bloodlines of Ren’s and Kishan’s parents. It is said that the two main bloodlines that had inherited pieces of Damon’s amulet had the ability to transform into tigers as well as have a significantly longer life than humans. Their mother as well as their father were said to be from those lines. And when the legend of the tiger princess is true…” “Then maybe this one is, too.” A kind of busy excitement took hold of me. “Does that mean I can stop shifting back into a tiger for half of the day now? It started to annoy me” Kishan asked sarcastically. “It won’t be quite so easy.” I foretold and Mr. Kadam agreed: “I assume Lokesh did but a spell on you, just a different one than we initially thought. If the transformation itself is not his doing, than maybe the boundaries are?” My former energy was gone and I only felt tired. I sighed. “Sounds logical but today I’m way too tired, I’m going to sleep.” I said and took my leave.

But even when I was lying in my bed I could not really come to rest. The thoughts were running wild in my head, in a circle, again and again and again and again and… suddenly I heard something outside. I jumped to my feet and ran out only in the soft satin nightgown and dressing gown I was wearing, barefooted. Once I was on the ground level I moved towards the noise into the jungle. And there he was. A majestic white tiger with cobalt blue eyes and the stripe pattern I knew so well. “Ren!” I exclaimed joyful and was about to run to him when Kishan exclaimed: “Kelsey don’t” and a stone landed just in front of the tiger. “What’s wrong Kishan? That’s Ren!” I asked accusingly. He took my hand and pushed me behind him. “First and foremost this is a wild tiger having no sense of humanity in him. I have a feeling something went very wrong.” I could only stare at him for a moment. Then Ren turned around and ran away. Kishan made no attempt to follow and I could hardly break free of the younger prince’s grasp.

From that on I spent the days trying to get new results from the poem and the prophecy with Mr. Kadam and Kishan, while during the nights I would sit by the side of the jungle, staring out into the dark wilderness, thinking of what Ren was possibly doing now.

Chapter Text

There came a day when Mr. Kadam drove to the nearby town with Kishan and Nilima to run some errand, which left me alone in the house. Finally free and desperate enough to do so, I went out into the jungle, looking for Ren. And indeed I found him, keeping a safe distance to me on a small clearing. I let myself slump against a tree trunk and slide down along it.

You're the light, you're the night
You're the color of my blood
You're the cure, you're the pain
You're the only thing I wanna touch
Never knew that it could mean so much, so much

You're the fear, I don't care
'Cause I've never been so high
Follow me through the dark
Let me take you past our satellites
You can see the world you brought to life, to life

When I sat on the ground I leaned my head back against the trunk, fighting back the tears. Fighting and losing. I looked over to the tiger and saw that he watched me. The look in his eyes. Something was strange about it. I turned over until I was on my hands and knees and slowly, so slowly made my way towards him like I was a feline myself.

So love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do
Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do
Touch me like you do, to-to-touch me like you do
What are you waiting for?

He didn’t move, he just watched me crawl closer and closer until suddenly he charged at me. But not like a predator charged at his prey, no. He charged at me like a male chasing his mate. When he started moving I stopped dead in my tracks, not daring to even twitch a single muscle. What would happen now? The tiger jumped at me and I fell back, his huge paws purposefully sliding off my sides once I did so, landing to my right and left with a barely audible sound. He lowered his head and I could see the cobalt of his blue eyes filling my vision and closed my eyes.

Fading in, fading out
On the edge of paradise
Every inch of your skin is a holy grail I've got to find
Only you can set my heart on fire, on fire
Yeah, I'll let you set the pace
'Cause I'm not thinking straight
My head's spinning around I can't see clear no more
What are you waiting for?

With a jolt they sprang open again when I felt the warm breath on the skin of my neck. I didn’t dare look at what the tiger did. Then I felt a gentle touch and did in fact look. He was softly licking my neck. I almost laughed due to the ridiculousness of the situation. I was lying in a jungle somewhere in India with a spellbound tiger that originally was a human prince and my lover once licking my neck. At some point something in my life had terribly gone wrong, I mused mentally. It felt surprisingly well, the tiger’s rough tongue gently licking my neck, the soft paws creating a protective cage around me. In that moment I was sure of two things. First: If humans were able to purr, I’d had certainly done it that moment. Second: Tigers definitely were able to purr, no matter what science said.

Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do (like you do)
Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do
Touch me like you do, to-to-touch me like you do
What are you waiting for?

Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do (like you do)
Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do (yeah)
Touch me like you do, to-to-touch me like you do
What are you waiting for?

With the time the tiger started to let his tongue go deeper, to also caress my cleavage. I was in a blissful state somewhere between wake and sleep, feeling entirely safe and sound. Already forgotten was that it was a wild animal over me, teeth dangerously close to my neck. I simply did not care. This was Ren, my Ren, animal or not.

I'll let you set the pace
'Cause I'm not thinking straight
My head's spinning around I can't see clear no more
What are you waiting for?

The moon casted his silver light over us when I softly whispered: “I love you Ren, no matter whether you’re tiger or man” And that was the point when I could have sworn if only for a moment it felt like lips on my neck instead of a beast’s tongue. But in the end, what did it matter? As long as I was with my beloved…

Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do (like you do)
Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do (yeah)
Touch me like you do, to-to-touch me like you do
What are you waiting for?

Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do (like you do)
Love me like you do, lo-lo-love me like you do (oh)
Touch me like you do, to-to-touch me like you do
What are you waiting for?

Chapter Text

The next time I woke, it was to Kishan’s voice. “I found her” he called out effectively waking me. Groaning I sat up and looked at the Indian prince. “Lower your voice, will you? I’m tired as hell.” When Kishan only stared at me and I finally fully woke, I remembered. “Oh” “Yes, oh”, Kishan sounded pretty irritated. “Honestly, what were you thinking? I tell you he’s a wild animal and you take the first chance you have to try if he’ll eat you!” “Stop!” I said camly. “Stop right there, Kishan. I did not try if he would eat me. I simply did not care. And maybe I knew deep inside, that he wouldn’t hurt me. Couldn’t hurt me. I mean, I’m supposed to be this tiger princess, it seems only a logical conclusion, doesn’t it?”

The same I explained to Mr. Kadam later. Neither of them would let me close to the room in which they kept Ren, nor would they hear any of what I told. It was infuriating. But at night, when everyone was asleep I would sneak down to Ren and sit with him, talk to him and wish I could be with him. It was killing me. I couldn’t stand seeing him caged like a trophy. Like those days back at the circus, long before I had even had a clue about the truth, I read to him. Now, after I got to know him, I chose the stories and poems more carefully. Like the book with the collection of those Indian tales Kishan had told me had been Ren’s favorites when they had been younger. But whatever I did, I couldn’t shake off the sadness about not being able to see Ren all the time. I loved him so much it physically hurt.

When I found the clue – or more the clue to a clue – I formed a plan. So I told Mr. Kadam: “I’ll need to go back.” Kishan watched me closely. “Why do you want to leave again?” I sighed. “First: I found a clue that could mean that there’s the possibility of a hint somewhere in my parents’ things. I just stuffed those in boxes and stashed them at my grandparents’. Second: There’s nothing else for me to do here. Third: You won’t even let me close to Ren. And fourth: The new trimester starts soon, I have courses to attend to.”

And so in the evening I was with Nilima at the car saying my goodbyes. After I was sure that both Mr. Kadam and Kishan were upstairs I sneaked to Ren and opened his cage. “You’re free. Finally.” I had not planned for him to follow me, but that was what he did. It made me smile when he jumped in the back seat. If he wanted to come with me, why not?

And for the third time, I left India. But this time, I had Ren with me. And tiger or not, I loved him with all of my heart. We would find a way. Somehow, somewhen. This would not be a tragedy.