Moonlight


by
Marie Macgivens



Prologue

Moonlight spread across the horizon, letting shadows fall on the pair in a small clearing, then settling across the sculpted plains of muscled chest like silver. Sweat gleamed off the pale skin, giving the being an unearthly glow. His head hung not in defeat, but only in weariness, regrouping for the upcoming battle. Golden eyes rose to look at the only other figure in the wide spread meadow. She stood playing with the hilt of a golden dagger; her ruby hair falling perfectly down her back settling in sharp contrast against the white of robes. No emotion graced the hard plains of her face. Eyes as empty as the moonless night stared back at him

. . . waiting . . . watching . . . devouring.

The full moon had almost reached its peak when yet another women emerged from the forest. As of yet, that made eleven in the murky mist. Twelve women sat in the clearing meditating, chanting, and praying save one, who stood in the shadows watching the meadow in silence. Finally the last woman had emerged from the forest, signified by the standing of the other twelve.

"Now my brethren, our destiny can be fulfilled. Come let us begin."

The whisper came from the shadows and set the women in a flurry of motion. Four stone bowls were placed at each corner of the platform in the center of the meadow. The platform was made of midnight marble, carved into an X, standing about three to three and a half feet high.

"Now, my sisters, bring him, bring the demon."

The whisper hovered in the air. Eight of the twelve women walked over to the sagging form hanging from between two trees. They reached up four on each side grasping and wrenching his arms up and between his shoulder blades. A slight hiss of pain was all that was offered from the otherwise silent being. With much pushing, pulling, and dragging, the eight women brought the struggling demon over to the marble alter. They quickly secured him to each limb of the cold stone. Once fastened, four of them backed away, leaving the other four to finish what they all had started. The remaining women each took a stone bowl and offered it to a fifth who had walked up to join them. The bowls each contained a different blend of herbs. The two at the demon's head stooped to the ground and came up with foot long strips of battered leather each.

They tossed one end to the remaining two on the other side of his head, and then they sprung quickly forcing the battered leather between the snarling lips and bared fangs. Once completed, they began pulling the clenched jaws in opposite directions forcing them to open. When they had his mouth open revealing the vulnerable red inside, the fifth reached for one of the stone bowls, mixing the herbs with the liquid from a pitcher placed at the altar's base. Once it had formed a runny paste, she began pouring it into the demon's mouth.

When she had filled his mouth to brimming, she gave the others the signal causing them to release their hold on the leather straps. As soon as they were removed, the fifth quickly placed her bowl on the ground and forced the demon's lips to close. Next, she pinched his slightly aristocratic nose closed as she leaned down to his ear to whisper, "Swallow, demon, You know that eventually you will swallow, the need for air will get the better of you . . . Yes, I know you don't need it, but the mind is a funny thing. It still wants it. Yes, you can already feel it, can't you: the pressure in your chest, the burning in your lungs, your throat tightening up. Ah yes. Now, Swallow!"

Finally it ended. As she said, the need for air was his downfall. When he had consumed the herbs and lay gasping for air, she turned to the one woman still hidden in the shadows.

"He shall be ready in a few moments, My Lady."

The women formed a semi-circle around the gasping demon, watching with eager anticipation as his member began to show the affects of the herbs. Slowly rising and flushing a deep purple; thick veins running over the swelling organ.

As the flesh stretched and throbbed, hisses and whimpers seeped from the top of the stone. When it seemed as though the flesh would never stop growing, it settled down, filled to the point of bursting. Two of the women walked up to the platform, each with a pitcher made of fine oak in her hand. As one, they tipped the contents slowly over the heaving chest muscles, starting over the nipples, causing a yelp to be ripped from clenched fangs. The oil that had been heated next to the fire, was poured in a constant stream, coating the skin in a fine layer.

Only one piece of flesh was spared. The mix instantly turned all that it touched a deep pink, not quite hot enough to burn red. The fine scent of elm and lavender drifted over the valley, burning the captive's sensitive nose, searing its way forever in his mind. Only when they had the clenching muscles coated, did they risk coming closer. Finally, a whisper was heard.

"Here, Mistress. He is ready for you now."

The figure slowly moved out of the trees. The wind picked up, blowing through the ruby strands that flowed out from behind the woman. She was no beauty, just a very ordinary looking girl. One would never pick her out among the others; they were all very plain looking women. In a way, that was worse than if they had been the most perfect of all creation. Lips peeled back, the demon snarled as she approached, continually pulling at the bindings. Sparkling emerald eyes met liquid gold and for almost the first time in a long while, bone chilling fear began to consume him.


~*~*~*~*~


"Spike! Spike!"

The pure voice of a young woman filled the night sky; her worried gaze scanned the graveyard for any sign of the familiar form.

Just let him be alright! her heart begged. But deep in her soul, forboding echoed.

"I'm sure he's fine, Dawn," the blond witch said, hoping to reassure the girl that she had begun to think of as a sister.

"Yeah, Spike's probably just off sulking," came from the redhead witch.

The watcher was ominously silent. They had been searching for three days now. Dawn had gotten worried when the vampire had not come to visit her like he normally did. Willow, Giles, and Tara all assumed he had gone to beat up some demons after the last argument with Buffy, and were surprised when Dawn came to the shop without him.

Now, they were searching all over town hunting for their missing vamp. Tara stopped and looked around, the breeze lifting her hair in little puffs. Dawn reached out and touched the blonde's arm. "What's wrong, Tara? What is it? Do you sense something?"

The witch reached around, gently petting the girl's hand, and let out a soft sigh. "Maybe..."

"Let's go! Tara, if you think you've found something, we should go." Dawn whispered. Turning, she yelled down to the other two. "Tara and I are going on ahead. Keep looking, we'll find you later!"

Giles looked around at the quiet tombs. "Alright Dawn, but be careful!"

Please, please be alright Spike! Dawn thought.

But it was not meant to be. What she found would haunt the young woman for the rest of her life.


~*~*~*~*~


Flames crackled softly into the chilly night air. Slight wisps of steam rose from the stones that contained the fire. Shadows danced and flickered over the battered form resting at its edge. Dawn leaned on the wall at the fire's edge. Eyes closed, but hearing every shift and creak in the house as a threat, her nerves were strung tight and if not for the dire need of the situation, she would have broken down and fell apart.

Spike gave a quiet whimper and the sleeping bag that lay over him began to shake. Dawn quickly scurried over to him, reaching over to get a bowl of water. Dipping the washcloth, she laid it on his brow causing him to flinch slightly. The liquid stung the cuts on his face that matched his whole body. The bruising flowed from each cut, spreading from patch to patch until it looked like his skin was shades of blue, purple and black. Dawn reached up, lightly petting his hair.

When she had found him, she was sick several times before she was able to help him. She had no idea that someone could do something so incredibly evil and vile to another living being. His skin had small needle marks and slivers of wood had been weaved throughout his body along with burns. Dawn ran her hand gently through what was left of the white blond hair. It looked as if someone had taken a knife to his hair, just hacking chunks away until it was an uneven mess. Whip marks crossed the inside of his arms and legs. There were more wounds than she could count. Again, he shifted and whined in pain, tossing his head.

"Please ......Please ..........no more ...please no more."

The softly whimpered words caused fury to leap in her eyes and her hands to tremble as she turned to reach for the water bottle she had set aside. Taking a deep breath, she turned to the battered demon; carefully slipping a hand beneath his neck, she lifted his head.

"Here, Spike, try and drink this."

Placing the rim to his lips, she tilted the bottle slightly. As the warm liquid trickled in his mouth, he began to struggle weakly, to turn his head away

"No... Not again.... please ....not again....no more. " The words broken and hoarse, with muffled sobs.

"Spi-Spike. It's alright now. It's Dawn, we found you. It's alright." She swiftly set the blood down and brushed her hands through his hair.

"Look, Spike. Look at me. Come on, it's okay."

She whispered soothingly to the sobbing vamp. Slowly, as if afraid it was a dream or trick, he blinked up at her and with all the grace of a falling tree, buried his face into her lap, arms wrapping around her tiny waist. Hard wrenching sobs were shaking his shoulders and shuddering through his body. Dawn bent over her broken, tormented friend as if she would guard him from any perceived threat, rocking him gently while humming softly.

Lightly stroking his hair, she whispered, "Are you all right?"

A choking laugh of despair floated up from her lap. "Do I look bloody all right to you? My god!" the rasp was harsh and sad at the same time.

"OK, that was a dumb question, I get it. Here, try to drink some blood, please.."

Spike shuddered, but was too weak and tired by this point to argue.

Dawn once again tipped the bottle to his lips, only this time he quietly drank, the fight gone with the first drop on his tongue. When she thought he might have had enough, she took the bottle away and gently laid him back down, pulling the sleeping bag back up to his chin. Almost as soon as she took the bottle away, he relaxed and was asleep.

Dawn stood, looking to the door where she knew Tara was watching. Tara walked over, sitting with her back to the flames alongside the wounded man, placing her hands on her lap.

"I'll watch him"

Dawn sighed, "Thank you, I'll be right back."

Dawn walked out of the crypt. Turning her back to the crypt wall, she ran her hand through her hair, thinking of the first time she had met Spike and the fact that they were friends now. With a final shudder, she vowed to do whatever she could to help and protect her friend.





Part One

The door clicked quietly shut behind the exhausted young man. Sawdust, sweat and heat permeated the air as he placed his tool belt on the hook. He slumped down in a chair to take off his mud caked boots. Passing through the kitchen, he grabbed a beer on his way to the shower. Stripping down, he stepped into the steam. Xander sighed, laying his head against the warming tile, and sipped his beer.

He had just had a full day's work and was getting ready to head out to patrol with Buffy and the gang. But after his summer away, things just hadn't been the same. There seemed to be a distance between them that had not been there before.

Sure, when they had gone off to college it had been bad, but this was different, Xander thought, as he poured some gel into his hand.

One of the wives of the guys at the site had given him the gel, after he pulled his shoulder so bad right after he got back. It worked well, soothing the aches and pains.

Stepping back under the spray, he sighed. Another discovery he'd realized over the summer, was that not all demons were bad. Most of the time, the ones they had come across on patrol were baddies or just fledges straight out of the grave, too hungry and stupid to know better.

A lot of the guys at the site were demons of some sort, or half breeds who were just trying to take care of their families. Shutting off the water and drying, Xander looked at the clock.

"Great."

He was running late. Hurrying through his routine, Xander grabbed an apple on his way out the door. Jogging to his car, he thought again about his girls. They seemed so different from when he left.

Willow was all about her witchcraft and Buffy was even more about the slaying, if that was possible. Anya was leaving with Giles for England. Big shocker there, the money obsessed girl leaving with the independently wealthy older man, yeah such a shocker. Tara was about the same, still a calm and steadying presence. Dawn though, Dawn was as changed as her sister and Wills. But where they gave him the wiggins, Dawnie made him swell with pride. She reminded him of her mother.

She now stood up to her sister and won at times, and wasn't afraid to stand for what she thought was right. The other big shocker was she had learned to fight. He wasn't sure where, but now she kicked butt. What really threw him even more than Dawn, was Spike. He was much more subdued and quiet. No snarking, no smoking, the only one he even talked to was Dawn and maybe Tara. If he hadn't been looking for it, he would have said Spike wasn't even breathing.

From the times he had lived with the vamp, Xander knew that the guy didn't have to breathe, but it took a lot to make him stop, the habit was so deeply ingrained. Spike had once told him that Darla hadn't liked the fact that he did it, so tried to torment it out of him. By the time Angelus had found them, he was almost ash, but still breathing. To see Spike so still was scary. And the guy never looked him in the eye anymore. It reminded Xander of himself, before moving out of his parent's house. There were those nothing-to-see-here vibes, and he really didn't want to face what that meant considering Spike was still chipped. Xander sighed as he pulled up to the Magic Box. This was not going to be fun.

The bell over the door danced to a deceptively merry tune, as Xander stepped inside.

"Hey, guys, " he called cheerfully, shaking his head as Willow just lifted a hand in his direction, never even looking away from the book she was studying. Making his way over to the counter, he could hear a steady rhythm coming from the training room.

Spike was sitting on the upper stairs, with Dawn on the lower steps, slowly and steadily sharpening a short sword. Giles and Tara were coming out of the back office talking over the shop books. Since he was leaving, he had gifted the magic shop to her.

Anya looked up from where she was stocking behind the counter. "Good evening, Xander."

Hopping up on the counter, he turned to Giles. "Hey G-man, how goes the packing and paper working? Got any big nasties for us to read up on tonight?"

Giles leveled a look at Xander. "How many..." he trailed off as Dawn, Tara, Anya and Xander chimed in to finish it off, "...times do I have to ask you not to call me that?"

They all grinned at each other and chorused, "At least once more, G-man."

They all laughed and Giles just grinned indulgently at them. "Yes, well," he said with a small chuckle.

"What's so funny out here? God knows, I could use a laugh." Buffy sniped as she came out, taking the tape off of her hands. "Oh, Xander's here, guess that explains that. Did you bring any good munchies? No? Jeez, you would think you might be at least a little useful," she said as she looked around the room.

"Jeez, Buff, bad night?" Xander asked with an arched brow.

Dawn looked up from her wet stone. "No, she's just a bitch," she said calmly, without emotion at all. Xander was taken aback.

Buffy huffed out, "Whatever." and turned to Giles. "Anything we need to look up or can I go patrol?"

He shook his head. "No, go on."

Buffy grabbed her coat and Xander cocked his head as she paused in the doorway and a strange smirk crossed her face, it gave him the chills. "Spike, why don't you come with me and actually earn your keep tonight?"

Xander watched Spike closely and saw him flinch, just slightly, and pale a bit. But he shifted to get up and follow her, Buffy stood with a look of subtle triumph.

Dawn cut in. "Sorry Buffy, but I need help with my homework tonight and I need him to help me."

Dawn's eyes had a hard glint to them that Xander had never seen before. What is going on around here? The triumphant look had crashed and there was a storm building in Buffy's eyes when Willow spoke up for the first time that evening.

"It's ok, Buffy, I need to talk to him when they're done anyway." At this, Spike's face went bone white and his head dropped.

Buffy shared a look with the red witch and let out a hard laugh. "Sure, sure." she said on her way out the door.

Leaving them puzzled and Dawn looking murderous, glaring daggers at the door till Spike leaned over and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and sat back down to lean against his leg.

Yes, yes, Xander thought, something is going on here and I am going to find out what!

A feeling of dread settled in his stomach, but resolve firming his spine. If anyone had been looking right then, they would have noticed the green reflective shine flashing across his eyes.





Part Two

It was a few weeks later before Xander was able to get Dawn to patrol with him alone. Any time he had tried to talk to Dawn or get Spike to shoot pool, get a beer or something, Buffy and/or Willow had some reason for him not to. Dawn was only with him now because Buffy had ordered Spike to go with her and Giles had backed her up saying something about a Buggypuff demon or something like that.

He thought back to when Willow had done her forget spell. After it had lifted, he had realized that when they got their memories back, he got all his memories back. He could remember training as a solider and some of the battles he had fought. Which was kinda cool, but what really got him was the hyena, which was much, much stronger... oh yeah, he had all of her memories. There was a tug of war at times when the instincts of the dominate female clashed with the soldier's will and with what he wanted to do.

During the time he spent away, he spent a lot of time researching the spotted hyena. What he found made him want to laugh and cry at the same time. He finally decided that the leader had picked him because his mind and memories felt like home. Xander found that hyenas patrolled too and females were more likely to lead border patrol and clan wars.

When groups of intruders were sensed near the territorial borders, a cooperative attack would be initiated to drive them away. These "clan wars" were characterized by coordinated rushes and attacks by both parties, as well as frequent vocalizations to call in reinforcements. Actual physical contact was a rarity, but sometimes injury and death occurred from severe biting.

* And damn didn't that sound familiar * he thought.

Casting a sideways look at Dawn, he asked, "Soooooo........ Dawnie, can I ask you a question?"

She gave a small smile. "You just did."

Xander rolled his eyes and bumped his shoulder against hers as they walked along.

"OK, so another one then. What's going on with everyone? The only ones not acting wiggy are Tara, Giles and Anya. What did I miss here, Dawnie?"

Dawn stopped walking and with a sigh, turned to look at the man she thought of as a brother. She fingered the dagger strapped to her belt.

"A lot, Xander, a lot."

It looked like she was going to start explaining, when a loud snap was heard off to their right. Both spun around, dropping into a fighting crouch, fists and daggers ready. Xander motioned to Dawn to start making their way to a nearby crypt for cover. Creeping along, they could hear footsteps. There were a lot of them.

Xander stood against the wall, head high and slightly cocked. His mouth closed and shoulders erect, listening to the sound of the footfalls moving closer and the breathing that went with it. Leaning into Dawn, his voice barely there, he whispered.

"Human. Five, maybe six, males."

Dawn gave him a strange look, leaning around the side wall before quickly slamming back against the wall. She gave him a look filled with ice and steel.

"Soldiers."


~*~*~*~*~


On the far side of town, down in a dark basement, there was a secret door leading to a candlelit room. The sent of lavender and cloves filled the space. Hard oak flooring gleamed wetly in the flickering flame save for the lines in the flooring that flickered all on their own, with nothing as iridescent as candlelight. These lines curved and twisted, forming a pentagram. At each point, a dark stone pulsed with raw uncut gems- ruby, emerald, sapphire, amber and garnet. Ruby at the top most point, next clockwise sat the sapphire, then amber, garnet, and emerald.

At the edges of the room, stood a dozen shrouded women, their black robes making them nearly invisible, swaying in time with the chants sighing through the air. Against the far wall a lovely table sat, carved engravings stark against white silk, a blinding contrast against the dark wood. Two massive midnight black candles sat on golden pedestals, where a matching bowl lay in between them waiting. In front of the bowl, an elegant double-edged dagger had been heated to a peacock blue color. It was a hand engraved ricasso with Celtic interlace on the face of the blade. A handle of lacquered bone, framed by hand carved brass quillions. In all, an exquisite weapon.

In the center of the pentagram knelt a trembling pale figure, heavy iron cuffs anchored his wrist to the floor along with his knees and ankles. The only clothing he wore was a single gold arm band with two solid gold bars wrapping the top and bottom of the band, with gold vine weaving connecting them. Fine leaves sprouted off the vines with tiny fruit. At the center of the band, a small emerald sat surrounded by claws of garnet, a pair of square rubies framed the jewels. The band was sealed tightly his flesh.

As the white robed lady stepped up to the table to pick up the dagger, the chanting grew faster. Turning with bowl and dagger in hand, she glided over to the bent back, placing the bowl under his bare chest. She slowly dragged the blade from one side to the other, the cuts bone deep. Now, bleeding freely a whimper could be heard under the chanting. Unhurried carving began to appear in the soft flesh of the poor being's back. If it had not been so gruesome, the design would have been pretty.

When it was finished the raw gems were glowing, the pulse of them almost a living thing. The bowl was almost full when the banded arm gave out, as its jewels flashed and joined their counterparts' thrumming. The figure walked around the circle three times three, dropping a bit of blood onto the stones at each pass, feeding them as payment. Finally, the chanting reached its crescendo, red hair spilled back as the white robed person tipped her head back and began to drink the stolen blood. As she did, black and gold sparks shot out of the gem stones into the whimpering bloody form at its center. At the first spark, he began to scream.


~*~*~*~*~


"What?" Xander growled back at her.

They both peeked back around in time to get the second biggest shock of the night. It had Xander planning escape strategies in the back of his mind. Buffy walked out of the woods straight at the uniformed men, a big smile on her face.

"Riley, Hello."

Said man stepped toward her with a warm smile of his own and a kiss.

"Buffy, I didn't think you were going to make it tonight."

She shrugged, leaning into him."I had to drop the pet vamp off with his nanny."

They shared a look that had Dawn gripping the dagger harder and green flashing in Xander's eyes.

Riley and Buffy shared another kiss before he asked "So when are you going to bring your pet back to play again. The boys and I had so much fun last time."

The other men in the clearing whooped laugher, nodding in agreement which had Buffy giggling and Dawn slapping both hands on Xander's chest to keep him still. Dawn looked up at Xander's face and really saw him for the first time in the weeks he had been back.

His lips were pulled back in a snarl, and his eyes green. A sub vocal growl rumbled in his chest as she felt where her hands were pressed, a low whine coming out of his throat.

"Xander, not now and not yet. There are bigger problems than them." That got the snarl turned on her. Dawn smacked him hard on his chest again.

"Don't you growl at me! I have been working on this all summer! I won't let you fuck it up by being hotheaded!" That seemed to snap Xander back to himself as he looked down at her.

"Sorry, Dawnie." He said with a small grin.

They both tensed as they turned back to watch the solders walk away, with Riley and Buffy cuddled up together. Stepping back out into the clearing when it was clear, Dawn and Xander looked at each other.

"We need to talk."





Part Three

Dawn and Xander ended up back at Spike's crypt. Dawn went in, but came back out when Xander didn't follow.

"Well, are you coming?" she asked with a faint sign of impatience. When Xander shook his head and went to sit against a tree. Dawn sneered at him.

"It's clean, you know. No dead bodies or anything." Xander looked at her in disapproval.

"I know that. I lived with the vamp before, remember?"
She flinched slightly at that and flushed with embarrassment. "Oh." Xander tipped his head back to look at the stair filled sky, and sighed. "That's his home, Dawn. If I went in there without his invite, he would have to move it because then he would no longer feel safe there." Rolling his head back and forth against the bark, he finished. "It'll be hard enough that I'm this close and know where it is."

Dawn looked at him with her eyes wide and jaw somewhat slack, he thought that for the first time since he got back, Dawn looked like the kid he left behind.

"You mean you're not going in for his comfort?" she asked.
Xander tapped his head against the tree, not answering. "So, tell me what in the hell is going on around here?"

Dawn settled down across from him and told him about that summer with Spike going missing, finding him, about his increasing fear of Willow and Buffy. How, no matter how much blood she got for him, he was steadily growing weaker, and her vow to help her friend. Dawn told Xander of taking extra classes in fighting at the mall and weaponry on-line, of how Tara was teaching her some witch things. By the time the whole story was done, Dawn had her head on Xander's lap, sobbing.

The stress of the summer now catching up to her; there was a safe haven to let down her guard down finally. He bent over the sobbing young woman, making soft chuffing grunts mixed with a growl so low and quiet that it sounded like a purr, all the while stroking the chestnut waves spilling across the grass.

After awhile, Dawn sat up, wiping her eyes "So, are you going to tell me? What's with the eyes, growls and the whole grr thing?"

So in turnabout, Xander told her everything that he found out over the summer. The spell, solider, hyena, everything. He had just finished talking when his head snapped up, and cocked to the side.
Dawn this time watched closely, and she could see the shine that filmed over his eyes that she had noticed before, along with the head tilt. But Dawn now saw what she had missed before. How the hair on the back of his head actually lifted and bristled. Also, how his hands automatically went for the weapons hidden on his person, that she had missed, they were so well hidden. Taking a couple of deep breaths, Xander relaxed.

"It's Spike."

Moving slowly, as if feeling every one of his 150 years, his arms wrapped around himself and his head down. The first time he stumbled, they were on their feet, the second had them running. The third time, Spike stumbled and went crashing but before he could hit the ground, Xander lept the remaining distance. Lifting him up, Xander carried Spike over to where they had been sitting. As he started to check for wounds or blood-whatever was making Spike so weak-but was frozen by Dawn's scared whisper.

"Xander?"

She was staring down at the hand she had been petting Spike's face with. which was coated in silver ash.

"Shit!" Xander muttered.

Yanking a knife out of his boot, he ran it neatly along the skin of his forearm, deep enough to flow freely. Gently opening Spike's mouth, he placed his dripping arm over the cold lips, softly stroking the still throat with his other hand. When Spike took a huge convulsive swallow, grabbed Xander's arm and began to gulp the warm fluid frantically. Xander looked over to where Dawn was sitting. He could see her sliding the mask back in place, a slow hardening of her features like clay baking.

"Sit up by his head and talk to him. He trusts you, let him know he;s safe." Xander told her gently.

Dawn nodded, wiping the few remaining tears from her eyes, sitting by Spike's head. She leaned down to whisper in his ear. Xander was carefully monitoring his blood loss and Spike's intake. *That's enough, Harris. Too much more and we won't be good to anyone,* came the faint ghosting whisper across his mind from the soldier .

Looking from Spike to Dawn, he asked, "You ready to go next?" She nodded.

"OK, get ready. We'll have to make this quick or we're going to lose him."

He handing her the knife, and they quickly traded places. With Spike's head on his lap, Xander bent, placing his head on Spike's. Dawn heard the same quiet chuffs and growling purr that Xander had used on her and, to her surprise, the tension that ran through Spike eased, his body slowly going lax. After a few minutes, the vampire began to stir, pulling his mouth away and softly licked at the cut. Xander leaned back as Spike blinked up at them, still licking his lips.

"Whaaat?....who?...Whelp?" came the soft whisper. Xander leaned back into view, "May I go into your home, Spike?" he asked.

Spike just blinked up at him for a long moment.

"Yeah, mate, just let me ..." He said, as he tried to sit up. Xander pulled him into his arms and surged to his feet.

Dawn hurried over to swing the crypt door open. Spike took in a breath to argue about being carried, but just exhaled and lay his head down on the strong shoulder, too tired. Xander laid his burden down by the edge of the ladder. "OK, when I holler, give Spike a shove over," he said as he jumped down.

A faint " Oi!" could be heard.

"Alright," he called up once he was ready. Spike slumped over and was caught by strong arms.

"I'm going to heat up some more blood, all right?" Dawn called down before disappearing over the lip once again.

"Okay." Xander answered as he walked over to the bed, sitting Spike down once again. As he knelt, reaching for the laces of Spikes boots, he asked
"Can you get your coat off?"

Instead of answering, he slowly shrugged it off before hunching over.
Xander had pulled off Spike's boots and shirt, and was reaching for his belt when Spike said, "So, you gonna join in with the rest of your little gang then, mate?"

His blue eyes staring blankly up at the cracked stone. Xander started, looking up from where he had gotten the jeans down and off. He was running his hands up and down the bare legs.

"Huh?" When no reply was forthcoming, Xander went back to what he was doing, missing the tear that ran down the pale cheek as Spike turned his head to the wall, compulsively running his hands up and over thin hips, belly, chest, and shoulders.

When Dawn came down with the mugs, Xander pulled the covers over Spike. "I couldn't find any wounds or blood that could have him in that condition," he said quietly to her. Turning back to Spike, he reached over to help him sit up. But before his hands could close over his upper arms, the vampire let out a high pitched, pain filled yelp. Clutching his left hand to his chest, Xander backed away until he was leaning against the far wall, and slid into a crouch. Dawn looked at him and Spike's head whipped around, eyes wide.

"What....was....THAT?" came the harsh croak as Xander lifted his head, eyes glowing bright green. Spike and Dawn shared a look. "We don't know. I can't see anything and Spike's not allowed to talk about it."

"Huh." Xander said, stepping closer. "What do you mean not allowed to talk about it?"
Dawn sighed as she helped Spike to sit up, and handed him a mug. " The nearest I can figure is that it's a spell. Whenever he tries to talk about it, his chip goes off." Spike nodded in agreement, sipping his blood.

"A spell?" Xander reached again for Spike's arm, pausing before actually touching him. "May I?"
Startled blue eyes flashed up at him, then a slight smirk settled over his face.

"Bit late for askin', ain't it whelp? You felt everything else up, but yeah, go ahead." He snorted, shaking his head at Xander's confused look, then at the slow flush that filled his face.

"Oh." Xander looked over at Dawn, then back at Spike.

"I'm sorry, I was asking advice and I still get a distracted when I talk to them." At Spike's puzzled glance, Dawn said "I'll fill you in later."

Looking back at Spike's arm, green backlit brown as Xander ran his fingers down from the shoulder until he came to mid bicep. Hissing through clenched teeth, he pulled a pen from his pocket, marking the spot where his fingers began to burn. He repeated the process again in reverse until there was a double ring around Spikes arm. Xander stepped back, shaking his hand out slightly to relieve some of the sting.

"What is that!?" Dawn asked. Spike just shrugged and Xander looked thoughtful for a moment.

"Dawn, give me your hand for a sec, please?" Holding out her arm, Xander carefully and gently reopened the cut she had used to feed Spike outside.

"OK, wipe a bit on the marked spot."

"Now hold it right there, Whelp-" Spike started, slamming his mug down on the bedside table. Dawn interrupted him. "It'll be alright, Spike." Her eyes were calm and steady on his.

He stared at her for a long moment. "Alright, Lil' Bit, just don't want to see you hurt." he said softly

Taking a deep breath, she dipped her fingers into the pooling blood on her wrist and reached out, lightly painting a line through the marks. Dark red and black sparks shot out of the marks. They watched with shocked eyes as brilliant green and gold sparkles burst out of the blood and consumed the dark sparks before fading into Spike's skin, revealing shining gold where the blood had been.

Dawn and Spike turned stunned looks to Xander's thoughtful one




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