The tattoos. They were… sort of brighter? More like they were alive. Glowing gold, they shifted and quivered on her skin, flickering like lantern light. Charlie had taken one look at them and completely lost all of her senses. She'd tried to bite him, for one. Hadn't even gone all demony, just went right after his neck. He'd managed to pry her off and calm her down enough to stop the screaming and the attacks, but then she huddled herself into the corner of his crypt, clutching at her arms and talking nonsense.
He knelt down next to her. "Charlie?" he said for what felt like the hundredth time, and he was rapidly losing patience. "Need you to talk to me, pet. Preferably not in lunatic."
"Burns. Burns. Get it now, the things he did, put a flower in my hair and tell me lies. Thought it'd be better but it was a funny play instead and I didn't watch," she whispered, turning to look at Spike in what seemed to be a moment of clarity, "Do you think he sees now?"
"Do I think who sees what now? Don't know who you're referrin' to, Charlie." He wanted to reach out and smooth her hair which had become all knotted and tangled, but he didn't want to startle her or acquire puncture wounds in the process.
She locked her arms around her knees and began to rock back and forth, hissing at the bright movement on her flesh. "Widow, the ghost, lover, he's singing on my skin and it burns, burns. Need silence. Can't bear this."
"You and me both," he muttered, shutting his eyes and rubbing his hands over his face.
Violence, he could deal with. Anger, cruelty, even Drusilla's special brand of crazy he could handle. Hell, he done it for over a hundred and twenty years. But this? What the fuck was this? He was in deep over his head, and he could tell whatever was happening wasn't just affecting her mind, it was hurting her.
His first attempt to fix things was an exercise in futility. A full stomach always seemed to cure any manner of his ailments, so he slid a cup of blood over to her, taking care not to put himself in an attackable position. She seemed interested at first, warily crawling forward to sniff it, but then she hissed like a wildcat and knocked it over with her foot before scrambling back to her corner.
"Right. Not fresh enough? Bloody waste, that was. Do us a favor pet, and give a warnin' the next time you feel like throwin' a wobbler so I don't have to lick my supper off the floor," he complained.
She looked back at him vacantly. A half-starved and completely insane fledgling vampire was absolutely not what he was expecting or what he'd signed on for. He knew she needed more help than he could provide.
With a substantial amount of effort, he managed to corral her down to the space below the crypt, and he pulled the ladder out and slid the cover of the sarcophagus on top of the opening. Since she hadn't fed, she wouldn't be strong enough to climb and lift it to escape. He sincerely hoped not, anyway. After a quick stop at the butcher's to replenish his blood supply, he set out for the UC Sunnydale campus.
It took him longer than he liked to find the witch. He could smell her, all herbs and that hot, sulfuric magic scent. He tracked it to her dorm room, then to Tara's dorm room, then the library, before finally catching sight of her red hair as she retired from her evening classes down one of the many blacktopped pathways.
"Need your help, Red," he said, moving into step beside her.
She jumped, letting loose a defensive burst of energy from her hand, which shot by his ear and hit a tree behind him. He watched in fascinated horror as the gnarled tree shrunk down to the size of a toadstool.
"Oh, Spike!" she said, clutching at her chest, "You shouldn't sneak up on people! Especially witchy people. Do you know how many students and faculty have gotten attacked by things on this campus? I almost turned you into a hamster-vamp."
"Wasn't sneakin' up, was just walkin' around," he clarified. "Need your help, but need you to keep your trap shut about it. Can I show you somethin'?"
"No? Why the bloody hell not?"
She stopped walking and turned to face him, "Spike, if you're asking me for help and saying I can't tell anyone about it, chances are that I don't want to know. And it would be… you know, not of the good for me to get involved. Plus, we've kinda got our hands full with the Bleakgrave thing right now. I'm supposed to be meeting Buffy as we speak."
He swore aloud and decided to take a chance as Willow started walking away. "Please," he said, wincing as the horrid word twisted out of his mouth, "S'about Charlie."
His plea seemed sincere enough that Willow stopped and turned again. "What's about Charlie?" she asked, a crease of confusion forming between her brows.
"I'll 'splain on the way, but she's at my crypt and she needs help."
Willow searched his eyes, trying to decypher his less than forthcoming statement. "She didn't die?"
"No, she did. Part of the problem."
"Oh," she said solemnly, "Oh. Wow, okay. Lead the way, I guess."
"Holy goddess," Willow whispered when she saw Charlie sitting on Spike's bed, nestled in the only set of sheets he owned. Make that, the only set of sheets he owned that were now torn to shreds. His books were strewn about the floor, his alcohol bottles were in pieces, and there were feathers stuck to absolutely everything. The carcass of what used to be his pillow hung sadly atop one of his knocked-over table lamps like the trampled flag of a defeated enemy.
"Were you losing the game of Jumanji before you went looking for me?" Willow asked, eyes growing wide as she surveyed the damage, "'Cause you're supposed to finish the game to make the mess disappear, not go find a witch to fix it."
"Didn't look like this when I left," was all Spike could say, surprised at the amount of destruction that could be done to his belongings in such a short period of time. If it had been someone else's stuff, it would have been bloody hilarious.
"Oh. Well, maybe she's getting worse?"
He'd admitted everything that had happened on the way over to the crypt, and so far, the witch's responses didn't exactly instill buckets of confidence into him. "She's been like this since she woke up, chatterin' on about nothin', hidin' behind things, makin' a bloody mess of my crypt."
As if Charlie knew she was being discussed, she began to shift around in her pile of tattered white cotton, repeating the words "burns, burn, burning," as though it were a mantra.
"Hey Charlie… how are ya feeling?" Willow asked gently. Charlie didn't respond to the query, running her hands along her arms and whimpering as she watched the bright symbols on her skin.
Willow took a step forward, riveted by the sight in front of her. "Her tattoos… they're glowing… and I think... it looks like they're moving…"
"I don't care if they're spelling out "buy some tires" like the bloody Goodyear blimp! Make it stop!" Spike growled.
"We need to figure out what the symbols are first. I need to copy them down. Get me something to write with, Spike." She took a few steps closer, "Charlie?"
The girl's teeth were chattering, though she couldn't have been cold. Vampires didn't feel much in the way of temperature, unless they were on the extreme ends of the spectrum. The crypt was quite comfortable, even by human standards. "Safe. Safe. Safe, not safe. Never safe. Just hurts, stay awake. Stings, burns, aches."
"Don't get too close, Red," he said, handing her a pen and a few sheets of blank paper from a journal that thankfully hadn't fallen victim to Charlie's insane rampage, "Tried to bite me, she did, wasn't even vamped out. And she hasn't fed yet."
Willow squatted down, examining the girl from a safe distance, "Spike- her eyes… her teeth… I think she's got her game face on, it's just… different."
He'd been so busy fighting Charlie off and trying to decipher her nonsense that he hadn't even noticed. Her irises suffered the only change to her eyes, black pupils now ringed in demonic green-yellow, brighter than they had been before but not so obvious that he'd noticed upon first inspection. Her incisors were the dead give away though, long and wickedly sharp, though easily concealed within a closed mouth. How had he missed that?
"Bloody hell," he muttered, "Why did this happen? HOW did this happen?"
"Well, that's what I'm going to try and find out."
"Crying, crawling," Charlie whispered, "Wants to get out. Let it out, keep it in."
"Yeah, well, figure something out right quick, cause she's makin' Dru look like the poster child for sanity," Spike snapped.
Willow shot him annoyed look, "I will, okay. But I need some time. Especially if I'm doing this by myself." She jotted down a few more lines of symbols, then folded the papers and stuffed them into her bag. "I'll be back when I know something. But in the meantime, maybe you should try to feed her again. She looks… hungry."
Three cups of blood later, two of which had seeped into the floor, and one of which was currently dripping down one of the walls, and Spike was cursing the witch for making him feel as though he needed to keep trying to feed Charlie. At least it was all from the butcher, not the good stuff from the hospital blood bank. It was day-old cow's blood though. Such a waste.
Sitting on top of his bare mattress, he passed the remainder of the evening keeping watch over her, though it almost didn't seem necessary. The frenetic energy that she seemed to have had earlier was waning, and she didn't appear to have any desire to go anywhere. He understood. He felt as exhausted as she was starting to appear, perhaps more, since he hadn't really slept since she'd died. He was close to nodding off when he heard the door open upstairs, and Willow call out his name.
"I think I've got it!" she said excitedly, as she hopped down the ladder steps. "Those symbols, they're definitely protection runes. It's very complex actually, but I found bits and pieces in an ancient text. You said her husband was some kind of warlock and spelled them onto her?"
He raised an eyebrow, wondering in what direction her research had taken her."Yeah. She said it was after Bleakgrave's hired claws attacked."
Willow was nodding eagerly, "I think he was trying to protect her from Bleakgrave. Dying is bad, but what Bleakgrave did to people was far worse, right? The soul-reaving thing?"
Spike thought back to what he had seen of Charlie's mother-in-law. Yes, there were some things far worse than death itself.
Willow continued on, "So these runes, they're part of an old spell that protects the wearer from having their soul taken from their body. It acts like a kind of net, so it can't be removed. If Bleakgrave had tried to take her soul, he wouldn't have succeeded. Charlie's husband must have figured out or at least suspected that Bleakgrave was close to fracturing the spell."
"Are you sayin' what I think you're sayin, Red?" he said, scarcely believing it could be true.
"The spell prevented her soul from leaving when she turned. It's not exactly what the spell was intended for, but it means she still has a soul, Spike."
It took him a minute to let that one sink in. He wasn't really sure what to think of it, a vampire born with a soul. A soul was like a gall bladder in a human or the little toe on a foot… not necessary, not particularly useful, and sometimes did more harm than good. Especially in this case.
"Why is she like this then?" he asked, "Angel wasn't this looney-tunes, just ran off, boo-hooin' his way into the woods. Turned into Captain Broody-Pants once he'd finished waterin' all of Europe with his nancy boy tears, but he still makes bloody sense when he talks. Usually."
"I think it's trapped beneath the surface of her skin, so it's probably hurting her," she said, with a hesitant shrug of her shoulders. "Like she's in a kind of limbo state, not completely souled, not completely soulless and it's driving her to crazy town. We need to force it back in."
"So you'll do the hocus pocus, and she'll be all sorted out again? More Charlie, none of the loonies?"
"Hypothetically?" Willow answered. Her unsure tone of voice wasn't remotely comforting, but there didn't seem to be any other options.
"So do it," he commanded.
"It's not that simple. And you're not going to like what needs to be done…"
Spike kept a close eye on the Watcher, making sure that he kept himself between Charlie and the man in case it was a setup. He hated the idea of having Rupert in on the situation. Willow had said she needed him though, and Tara too, so he didn't have a choice in the matter.
Even so, it pissed him off that the Watcher was looking at Charlie as if she were an animal in a zoo, polishing his glasses and putting them back on, saying things under his breath like "fascinating" and "incredible, just incredible".
"Can we just get to the mumbo-jumbo already?" Spike demanded, annoyed as the man pushed his way past Spike's defensive lines and knelt down next to Charlie to get a better look.
"Spike, I understand your impatience," Giles said, in a tone that suggested anything but understanding, "but we need to make sure that we are in fact correct in our assumptions. And it seems that nothing quite like this has ever been documented before, so it would be ludicrous to not learn what we can before we fix it. Give us a moment."
Spike walked off in a huff and leaned against the rung of his ladder, hoping Gile's punctilious attitude would get him bitten. Would serve him right, putting knowledge above the wellbeing of others. The Watcher wrote a few things down in his notebook, even dared to reach out and inspect one of Charlie's arms. Spike waited for her to lash out at him, but she didn't. The girl needed to be fixed, and soon. With a detached soul and no fresh blood in her system, there was no telling what was happening to her.
Willow at least seemed to understand the need for haste, and she hustled herself and Tara back upstairs to begin setting up for the incantation they'd be doing. Spike could hear things shifting around above him, and he vaguely wondered what state his crypt would be in once he went back up. Couldn't possibly look worse than the downstairs. It grew quiet after a few minutes, and Willow called down to say that they were ready.
Giles looked displeased, but stuck his pen in his pocket and shut his notebook. "Alright. I suppose we should get the patient back upstairs."
She was dazed and tired enough that Spike and Giles were able to help pull her up the ladder without any painful consequences. They maneuvered her to the center of a large chalked star that Willow and Tara had drawn onto the floor, interspersed with candles, crystals, and a few chalked runes that Spike didn't recognize. Charlie didn't seem to want to lie down or lie still, but Giles gingerly pinned her shoulders down until she stopped putting up a fight.
Willow dipped her fingers into a short glass jar and anointed the center of Charlie's chest with a sweet-smelling oil.
"Spike, this spell we're doing… it's not guaranteed that it will work. It's an ancient Romanian spell that was used to fix detached wagon wheels and broken pottery… things like that. I tweaked it, but there's no telling if it will fix this or make it... you know…" Willow trailed off.
"Worse? Can't get much worse than this, Red," Spike declared. "Do the spell."
"Okay." She took a deep breath, sitting at Charlie's head and joining hands with Giles and Tara, creating a triangle with their connected arms. She cleared her throat, and spoke aloud. "Ce este pierdut, ne întoarcem. Face întreg din nou ceea ce a fost spart, Spiritele bune, numim pentru tine."
The candles flickered and the room became bathed in shadow. Outside, a bolt of lightning cracked in the distance, and Spike wondered if the spirits they were invoking had a propensity for creating ridiculously cliché side effects.
Willow continued, her voice stronger than before, "Pune suflet în locul de drept. Cuvintele noastre va vorbi sufletului, Mâinile tale vor ghida sufletul."
The tattoos on Charlie's body seemed to steady their movement, the light radiating from within them intensifying. A strong breeze filled the air inside the crypt, blowing out the candles and tossing around the pages of the open grimoire Willow had been reading from.
"Așa va fi!" Willow yelled over the wind, "Așa va fi!"
The light beneath Charlie's skin became even brighter, began pulsating violently, finally slamming together just beneath the oil on her chest. She arched her back and began moaning and scratching at her chest as if to scrape the glowing embers out. And then, just as suddenly as it had come together, the light faded and Charlie relaxed onto the floor, silent and unmoving. The wind dissipated.
Willow shared an apprehensive look with Giles and Tara, before checking on the outcome of their spell.
"Her tattoos… they're so pale now, I can barely see them," Tara whispered, peering down at Charlie's exposed limbs.
Spike stepped over to where Charlie was lying, kneeling down to reach a tentative hand out and touch her leg. Sure enough, the tattoos had faded to barely discernable shadows. Charlie's eyes flickered open, human and bewildered, first alighting on Spike, then searching out the other faces around her. Giles helped her to sit up.
"Where… what? I thought… did I fall asleep?" Charlie asked, her imploring gaze directed towards Spike. "No, I couldn't have." She rested her hand over her stomach as the memories seemed to come swarming back, "It was him. He was there and he… and he... the knife-"
"Weren't exactly sleepin' pet, but glad to see you back among the conscious," Spike professed, feeling all the tension and anxiety in his chest begin to melt away at the sound of her rational sentences.
She looked down towards her stomach in astonishment, and Spike wondered if she was expecting to find the same blood-drenched fabric that had stuck to her skin as she lay dying in the cabin.
"But it cut right through me. It doesn't even hurt! I thought…" Charlie let out an incredulous laugh, "God, I thought that was it for me… lights out, dead. How did you do it?"
"Well, if you want to be technical 'bout it, you still are," Spike said, thinking that she didn't quite have all her wits about her just yet.
"What do you mean, still are? I'm still what?"
Christ, didn't she remember asking him to turn her? Was it one of those PTSD things where she'd just blocked it all out? "I bit you, luv. You told me you didn't want to die, and I bit you."
Giles, Willow, and Tara were watching the conversation unfold with the unceasing, back-and-forth attention spectators would pay to a tennis match, though it didn't even register to Spike that they were still sitting there.
"I know I asked you to bite me, but I didn't say I didn't want to die. I never said that," she said, stunned. "I didn't want to hurt anymore. I didn't want to bleed out on the floor for hours, thinking of all the things I could've done better, done smarter. Maybe that makes me a coward, but there was so much pain and I just wanted it to be over with. What did you do to me?"
A sinking feeling twisted its way into Spike's gut. "Turned you," was all he could say.
"I'm… a vampire?"