Title:The Crimson

Author: Faith Harris

Rating: R

Ship: Xander/Spike Very slowly paced, Buffy/Spike Angel/Buffy, Faith/Angel One-sided, Willow/Kennedy

Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, or Angel: the Series.

Warnings: Probably Violent, cursing, sexual themes, and a very unfavorable view of Buffy, Robin, and Willow. Which is strange, because I really like Robin and Willow. On the other hand, I hate Kennedy, Andrew, and Dawn, and they come off fairly well, I think.

Summary: Xander is bit by an uber-vamp, and it turns out that Willow, during her dark magic phase, attempted to make sure that all the Scoobies would be safe.

A/N: This is a fic that I have a lot of work put into, but it's not finished. So for awhile, a long while, actually, I'll be able to post fairly regularly, but recent months have made this pretty slow going.

Chapter One: Freakish

"Is he…okay?"

Willow jumped at the sound of Faith's voice as she entered the kitchen. She hadn't heard the Slayer walk into the room at all. It was silent everywhere now, it seemed. That wasn't a good thing though; it scared her. Silence used to be comforting. After so many years of fighting the creatures of the Hellmouth, silence just meant the calm before the storm- or worse, the eye of the tornado, which is what she was sure she was in now.

She wiped her eyes, sure that they were red and puffy, and shook her head sadly at Faith. While Faith never said anything about it, Willow knew that she cared about Xander. The two had become something like friends, although when exactly, Willow couldn't put her finger on it. Faith, like Willow, was wondering if this was her fault. "He's not okay, not really."

Faith sat down on a stool next to Willow. "Fangs is really beating himself up over it. Blames himself."

"He's not the only one," Willow muttered. At Faith's look, Willow sighed. She was going to find out anyway; Faith might as well hear it from her instead of an angry Xander or Buffy. "Aftermath of my addiction. To protect everyone, I cast a sort of soul spell on us…if we were vamped, or something, the spell that was used on Angel would be cast."

Faith looked confused. "Well, that's a good thing, right? We don't have to stake him."

"No," Willow shook her head, "it isn't. I wasn't thinking, and the spell depends on guilt. It's a curse. We don't know how he's going to react to it if he hasn't been a demon before it was cast. Especially since he wasn't bitten by a regular vampire." Faith nodded in understanding, and Willow braced herself for the angry scolding that had come when she'd, quite happily, told Giles and the others what she'd done.

"You were actually trying to do something good, trying not be selfish…" Faith said after a moment. "Although I'm sure that Xander'll argue me on that point."


She raised an eyebrow at Willow, as if she should already know the answer. "Xander will say that you didn't think about whether or not he wanted to be a vampire." She shrugged, looking past Willow as she mused. "Of course, now he gets to make his own choice as to what he wants to do, for real." She glanced back at Willow. "Most people change their mind real quick when they find out they're going to die. Let him have that chance."

Something about that made Willow shiver, and reminded her of the one thing that she and Faith had in common- a body count. Faith knew from personal experience what people acted like right before they died. "I don't think he'll appreciate that part too much."

Faith patted her shoulder almost comfortingly, and Willow found herself starting to cry again. There was no one else to cry with, really; Kennedy didn't really understand, and everyone else was mad at her, furious even. She couldn't say anything to anyone except Faith or Robin, and she wasn't going to get up and look for pity from the ex-principal. "He'll understand, Will. He's one of those rare guys that actually give a damn about other people. He'll be mad, yeah, but he'll deal."

Willow glanced up at Faith, surprised by the compliment Faith had just given her best friend. The moment was destroyed by the sound of the chains being pulled out downstairs. Willow and Faith both jumped, Faith removing her hand as if she'd been shocked. They looked away from each other.

Faith spoke first. "He's up. You want me to check it out for you? You call the others, tell them he's awake?" Willow nodded, and Faith sighed, standing up. She paused for a moment, and then frowned. "You know, he might not want to see them yet…maybe you could just go upstairs, tell Spike he's up instead?"

"Buffy'll want to know-"

"He might not be ready to see them," Faith repeated, and Willow got the hint. The three of them- Spike, Faith, and Willow- were the only ones who wouldn't stake him right away if the spell hadn't worked. Who would try to find another solution? Giles would do it, seemingly out of pity for Xander's soul, and Buffy was getting consumed by everything that was happening with the First. To Robin, a vampire was a vampire, and the Potentials, even Kennedy…they'd be scared.

Willow nodded. "That's a good idea. I'll, um, go tell Spike." This seemed wrong, this seemed to not make sense. However, with Buffy and the others out patrolling, maybe it was the best way to do things for now.

"That's a good Will," Faith said as she turned back towards the basement and went downstairs.

Willow sat still for a moment, and found herself praying. "Please, Goddess, I know I don't deserve anything from you at this point…but Xander, I think he does. He doesn't deserve this, anyway. Please, I beg you…save him."

She took a deep breath before going upstairs to see Spike.

"Hey, Xand? You down here?"

It seemed like a stupid question, to Faith, but there was nothing else she could say. She couldn't apologize, she couldn't ask how he was feeling…so there wasn't an intelligent opener to whatever this conversation would be about. How about 'Hey, boytoy, you thinking about biting me? Because if you are, I'm letting you know, that kink's not gonna work for us right now…Faith snorted at her own cynicism as she reached the bottom of the steps.

"Well, I sure as hell wasn't planning on going anywhere…" Xander grumbled under his breath. He was chained to the wall, where Spike used to be. His blood was still on his t-shirt—the Potentials that had cleaned up his face hadn't wanted to stay close for long enough to remove the shirt, for fear that he'd wake up.

Faith dragged a chair over to Xander, and sat in it, the chair backwards so she could rest her arms on the back of it. She took a good look at Xander. He was a vampire, alright; his skin was pale, and Faith's slayer sense was going off like a siren. She tired to push it to the back of her mind, though. Tried to remember that this was probably still Xander, no matter how dead he was. Even if the power he was sending off—she reminded herself that he'd been bitten by an uber-vamp. That he wasn't going to be an average vampire, even without the soul-spell.

"You know, generally, staring's considered kind of rude," Xander commented, and he looked Faith in the eyes. The color of his eyes freely flowed from dark brown to amber and back again. It was disconcerting. "And if you're wondering whether I'm plotting to break free and murder you all, the answer's no."

"That's good. I'd be kind of pissed about that, boytoy."

"Was kind of wondering why that wasn't the case, though, and why I'm not getting a massive tan down in hell," Xander questioned deliberately. It was clear that he already had a clue what the answer to that question was. Faith wasn't entirely sure she wanted to be the one to inform him of the truth. "You mind filling me in on the past few…how long have I been down here, anyway?"

"Three nights," Faith answered. "Not counting tonight."

Xander nodded to himself as he processed this information. He leaned his head back on the wall and chuckled to himself. "This is screwed up. Severely. And you still haven't answered my question, Faith."

"Will did a protection spell on all of you, made sure you guys wouldn't become demons," Faith explained. "Way back when things were crappy with her. Made sure you'd keep your soul."

Xander made a face at that. He didn't appear to notice it, but his eyes were steadily amber at this point. "That wasn't the most clever thing she's ever done." He pulled at the chain a little. "Hey, you wouldn't happen to have the key to these, would you?" Faith just looked at him blankly. He sighed, letting up on the manacles. "No, I didn't think they'd let you have them. Buffy?"

"Yeah," Faith said. "I could break them--"

Xander didn't look impressed. "Uh, Faith, no you couldn't. Not regular chains, remember? If you could break them, I think I would have worn them down by now, don't you?" Xander had a point, and Faith didn't finish her sentence. "Anyway, broken chains wouldn't be a good sign for Buffy and Giles, right?"

"Never let anyone tell you that you're stupid, Xand," Faith said.

"They usually don't do it to my face," Xander replied. "Worthless is usually the favorite choice of phrase when people are telling me stuff. Or in the way." This was said without bitterness, quite matter-of-factly, and Xander's eyes became brown again.

Faith frowned. "I don't think you'll have to worry about that much anymore."

"Yeah, I guess I won't," Xander mused with a trace of sarcasm to his voice. He started to speak again, this time in a self-mocking high-pitched tone, like a small child. "Look, mommy, I'm special. Special like Angel and Spike and…" He cut himself off, speaking again in his normal voice. "God, this is sickening."

Faith couldn't help herself. "Sorry, Xand." She wanted to stake herself for such a pathetic, self-pitying statement. Because, she knew, it was more about her guilt than about feeling bad for him. That was why people like her apologized.

"No offense, Faith, but save it," Xander said with a grimace. "Apologies don't sound right coming out of your mouth."

"That's why I don't usually give 'em," Faith answered, more flippant than she felt.

"How long until Buffy gets back with the key?"

Faith shrugged. "She doesn't let us in on her plans-" They both fell silent as they heard footsteps coming down the steps.

Xander scrunched up his face. "Spike, welcome to the Pity Club. Kind of like Fight Club, except without the coolness."

Spike didn't seem as hesitant as Faith had been, but both the Slayer and the newly bitten vampire knew better than his act. It was a front; Faith realized that Xander could probably hear most of what happened in the house from down here, including when Faith and Spike had been talking about the current situation, when Spike had vented his guilt to her. "Not my type of gathering then, is it?"

"It isn't?" Xander remarked. Spike shook his head no, and Xander shrugged, or at least, he shrugged as much as he could chained to the wall. "Well, welcome anyway. My name is Xander Harris, and I'm a pathetic vampire." He glanced at Faith. "Your turn."

What the hell, Faith decided. If he's willing to play this stupid game, that means he's probably not an evil demon. No new vamp's that clever or patient. "Hi, my name's Faith, my last name's none of your business, and I'm a pathetic substitute Slayer." And admitting that hadn't been her plan, and the words tasted bitter on her tongue, but it wasn't like she had much to hide from these two.

Spike sat himself down on the floor, and lit a cigarette. "Name's Spike, and I'm not pathetic."

"You're no fun, is what you are," Xander retorted. "I'm chained up to a fucking wall. The least you can do is humor me, Spike." Xander was lonely down here, Faith realized. She suddenly wondered how long he'd been awake today, being quiet and confused, maybe hoping someone would come downstairs and check up on him. If he was hurt no one did—and again it was a show of their selfishness, because the reason they didn't come to see him at all today was that no one wanted to see or know. Didn't want to speed up the timeline so they'd have to stake him.

Spike didn't seem to be in the mood to play. "You hungry?"

That was a mood killer if I'd ever heard one, Faith thought irritatedly.

Xander just glared at Spike without any amusement in his eyes. Which were amber again now. "Yeah, I am. Starving, actually. Thank you for reminding me, asshole."

Spike shrugged. "You seem pretty damn conversational for a fledge, that's all."

"I've been awake for about a day and a half now. I think I've spent most of my time down here repressing and being disgusted at myself." Well, that answered Faith's question. However, that meant that he hadn't wanted anyone to know he was awake. That he'd faked sleep a couple of times that they'd come downstairs. "Though Buff's cross was a bit much, and made repressing kind of hard. In fact, could you tell her that next time, she doesn't need to check to see if I'm a vamp. I'd prefer being staked to that."

Faith stopped dead, sitting straight up. Buffy wouldn't be that dense, would she? Not only was that cruel, that was dangerous for her. Xander could have bit her, if he had been a demon. "She put a cross to you?"

"Yup," Xander made a face again. "Told Giles that she had to know, you know, really know if I was a vampire. I assumed that she'd just hold up a mirror to me. Apparently, that wasn't good enough for her." There was a slight edge to the end of his statement, a snarl at the end of the last word.

Spike raised his eyebrow. "You were able to control yourself then, mate? Soul or no soul, survival instincts usually get in the way then."

"My survival instincts told me it wasn't clever to bite a Slayer."

"Probably has to do with the uber-vamp changing him," Faith interjected. "Made him…sturdier, you know? That and the soul together made him able to control himself."

Spike seemed to absorb this information and nodded to himself. "Fortunate thing, that."

"I hope you're not doubting my loyalty," Xander commented. "Because your word seems to be the only one Buffy hears nowadays. One word from you and it's all ashes to ashes and all that shit." His tone was a mix of fear and anger. Faith didn't blame him at all.

Spike shook his head. "Don't worry about me, Harris. You're safe from me."

"Unless I get dangerous." That wasn't a question, Faith noted. That was an order from Xander. He didn't want to hurt any of them. Faith's respect for Xander grew leaps and bounds at that moment. While she would have hated to be a vampire, Faith couldn't guarantee that she would have been able to ask Spike to kill her, even in this souled form.

"Of course," Spike assured him. "Not letting you get to the little bint." Xander nodded with some satisfaction. Then Spike turned to Faith. "I don't care about saying this in front of him, cause trying to whisper it would be bloody useless, but we need to get him a pretty nice supply of blood."

"We've got your bags—" Faith started.

Spike cut her off. "Not enough. I don't care how he's acting, he's bloody famished. Even his self-control's going to run out at some point, and when you first wake back up, you need more blood."

"I'll stop at the butcher's then, until we can raid the blood bank again."

"No, I'll raid it tonight. That pig shit isn't going to be any good for him. Like using a bandaid to fix a broken bone, it is." Spike sighed, rubbing his temple. "I need to do it now. I'll have it done before Buffy gets back. You're not going to want to be down here while he's eating. Too tempting."

"And if any of the others are here," Faith said, "They'll want to get close, to check and make sure he's soulled up. Especially B." Faith thought for a moment. "Willow'll understand, though."

"I don't think I'm up to seeing her yet anyway," Xander said, and it wasn't without a small tinge of repugnance. He was mad at her about the spell, and not without reason. He'd get over it though, Faith figured, if they just gave him space and time.

Of course, getting Buffy to give him either was going to be an adventure in and of itself, but Faith would worry about that afterwards.

"Okay, Spike, then why are you still sitting here?"

Luck was not on Spike's side. He was coming back from the blood bank when he crossed paths with Buffy, Dawn, and Giles. He couldn't really avoid them, when he was heading in the same direction as them. He knew other routes to the Summer's house, but it would take him longer to get there. Taking another way didn't make any sense if they'd get there before him.

Anyway, Dawn had already seen him, and rushed up, speaking in a rush. "Spike, what are you doing? I thought you said you were going to stay home with Willow and Faith to watch Xander? Is he awake? What's in the bag…" She put the pieces together. "…oh. He's awake? Is he okay?"

Spike put a hand up to get her to stop speaking for a moment. He considered telling her that no, he wasn't awake, and that Spike was just preparing for when he did wake up. However, that was pointless. Buffy was getting good at telling when he was lying. "Yeah, Dawn, he is."

"How- um, how is he?" Giles asked.

"As well as can be expected. He's sitting with Faith; at least Faith was sitting with him when I left. Talking." Spike could already see that was a question that was going to get on his nerves. His nerves and Xander's nerves, which, with Xander's fledgling status, was probably more dangerous.

Xander was a surprisingly good actor, Spike had noticed. He was barely hanging on control wise. Spike could see it in his eyes, and not only because of the fact that they kept changing colors when he got angry. Xander had difficulty staring away from Faith's neck during the entire conversation. Spike knew that the cross that Buffy had pressed against him had a lot to do with his slipping control, but Xander would never say anything to any of them. Well, maybe Spike could get him to talk about it, but not in front of anyone else.

Buffy looked hopeful, and Spike didn't sense any guilt at burning her best friend. "So he's talking? He's…Xander?"

"Yeah, he's all souled up," Spike said. "But he's still a new vamp, and I've got to get back home and get him some blood." He held up the large bag, which held several packets of blood.

Buffy nodded in understanding. "I'll help you-"

"He doesn't want to see anyone else yet," Spike said, and he resisted adding especially you and Red. Buffy would take it the wrong way. "He's not ready to see you. Though he'd appreciate being unchained."

Buffy looked hesitant, and more than a little hurt by Spike's message. "Why not?"

"Because he doesn't want to hurt you," Spike explained with a sigh. Or, technically, Spike thought sarcastically, the problem is that he does want to hurt you and that scares him. "When he's…eating, Faith's not gonna be down there either." Just so that she didn't feel jealous about the situation.

Although, when Spike thought about it, the truth that Faith was less obnoxious to have around at the moment. Just like, even though Xander hated Angel, the pouf would probably be more welcomed now. Faith, Spike, and Angel, all of them had something in common with Xander now.

When patrolling once, Xander had coined a term for them, minus himself of course. 'Grey Area Heroes'. It made sense, of course; No one was ever suspicious about what side of the fight Buffy was on. Or Willow even, when she was psycho with grief or something like that. Even in her darker moments, Xander had explained, she'd said that she was destroying the world to stop people from feeling pain. With Spike and Angel, people were constantly doubting whether it was their soul or their demon in charge, or if it was Faith, if she was going to panic and switch sides again. Willow could redeem herself and be treated as redeemed with other people; it wasn't the case, necessarily, for everyone else. Hence, they were the 'grey area'. Now Xander was in that category as well. No matter what happened, Buffy and Giles and Dawn would forever be worried that he'd lose control.

Giles nodded in understanding, and smiled sadly. "At least that fear is a sign that it is our Xander."

"Yeah, well, he's still making the bad jokes at the wrong times," Spike muttered to himself.

"Bad jokes are good, though, right?" Dawn asked timidly.

Spike didn't want to get her hopes up. "I think so, nibblet. Can't be sure though. Have to wait and see." By the look on Dawn's face, even that was more hope than Spike wanted to give her. Last thing that Spike wanted to do was make Dawn too comfortable around a fledgling, even if this fledgling had a soul.

"We'll be able to see once you get him some blood," Buffy said, as if it was that simple.

"He's gonna be hungry for awhile. It's like a puppy, hungry all the bloody time," Spike said. It was the worst analogy in the world, far too innocent sounding, but Spike couldn't think of another thing to say. "At least for a little while."

Dawn nodded in understanding. "As long as he's okay."

Spike threw a look at Buffy and Giles silently. Giles seemed to understand more than Buffy did. Giles pushed his glasses up on his face and coughed. "Yes, well…we should make it back. Making him wait isn't going to make this any easier for him."

Faith saw Xander's head shoot up far before she realized that Spike was back. For a moment, Xander vamped out, and no matter how long Faith might have sat there, she wasn't prepared for it. Then Xander went human-looking again, and Faith exhaled. Xander, however, cursed. "Buffy's back."

She never would have thought she'd hear such disappointment in Xander's voice when saying those words. She turned as Spike walked downstairs, and she noticed Xander quietly watching the bag that Spike was carrying. She shivered; it was an unnerving look to see on Xander's face.

Spike put the bag on the ground, nearby his chair. He sat down for a moment, watching Xander. Faith wondered if he thought that he was being amusing. Xander was the one to voice the opinion. "So, what is this, fuck with Xander day?"

"What do you mean?" Spike asked casually.

"Fuck you," Xander spat. "Do you think I want to do this? Because if you do, you're terribly mistaken. I hate this shit, and I hate the fact that I can fucking smell the contents of the bag, even if you're upstairs. Do me a favor, and let's get this shit over with, alright?"

Spike nodded. "Whatever you want, Harris." Spike glanced over at Faith. "You mind? The others'll get pissed if you're down here."

Faith shrugged. "Whatever." She glanced over at Xander. "I'll see about getting those chains off of you."

"Good luck," Xander snorted mirthlessly. "Unless I've got Buffy as a constant guard dog, I don't think it's going to happen."

Faith wished he didn't seem so resigned to being chained up in the basement, but there wasn't anything that she could do about it. She couldn't even begin to imagine what was happening to Xander, and she couldn't tell him how to feel about it. As she walked upstairs, she tried to figure out how she would be acting in his situation. Whether or not she'd be surprised when she was chained in the basement. Then again, she mused, unless Xander spoke up, she was sure that she would have been immediately staked. She didn't have the circle of friends that Xander had.

She was back in the kitchen now, where she saw that Giles was preparing some tea. She eased herself up on a stool, folding her hands on the counter top. She watched the ex-Watcher quietly. She knew that Buffy often went to Giles—or used to go to Giles, rather—whenever she needed advice. Faith hadn't had someone like that in a long time, and she wasn't really sure how to go about talking to a father-figure. If she even had the right to talk to him as if he was her Watcher.

Fortunately, Giles spoke first, without turning to face her. "Is there something you need, Faith?"

He didn't sound as if he hated her guts, so it seemed safe to talk to him. "Shit's gonna hit the fan, Jeeves."

"You and Xander have the same unfortunate habit of creating irritating nicknames for people," Giles noted, looking at her from over his shoulder. Faith shrugged, not too concerned with what she called Giles at the moment. Giles sighed and continued, removing his glasses. "What 'shit' are you specifically referring to?"

Hearing Giles curse didn't sound natural, Faith noted. "With Xand, Red, and B. He's gonna be pissed, they're gonna either smother him or run, and if anything happens, B's gonna say it's a demon, not him."

"Yes, I did consider that," Giles nodded, more to himself than to Faith. He looked at her somberly. "I never thought I would find myself saying this, but Faith, I do believe he's going to need you. And Spike. I fear that the other girls won't be able to understand. They might even…they will fear him, to some extent." He sighed loudly. He removed his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose like he did when he was worrying about the latest plan that they were thinking of putting into action.

Faith sighed loudly, frustrated at the fact that she couldn't do anything physically to help. She remembered back when things were simple for her, and all her problems could be solved by a fight or getting laid. Neither of those would help Xander out, at least she didn't think it would. She heard the sound of the chains downstairs being jerked hard, but she refused to allow herself to react to it. If she did that, she'd be allowing herself to fall into the fear that was creeping up on her at the moment. If what Giles was saying was true- which she feared it might be- Xander could very possibly end up relying on her for…

For what, exactly? If she was being picked to be his therapist, or some sort of support, she didn't think he was getting a good deal. She was well aware of her track record; how could anyone depend on her for their sanity when she was barely out of the halfway house herself. She wanted, no, she needed Angel to be there to help her like he had in Los Angeles. Faith wasn't a fool, and knew that he was neck deep in shit that made it so she couldn't ask for his advice. Faith wasn't ready to be the Angel or Giles figure for anyone, and she knew that Spike wasn't either. Giles was putting too much on their shoulders.

"I know what you're thinking," Giles said after a long pause. "And, a few months ago, I would have agreed with you. But now, I do believe that this is the right job for you, and I think you're capable of more than you're aware of." He looked away from Faith for a moment. "I think that was always a part of the problem, Faith. You're capable of more than you know."

Even though Giles was no longer looking at her, Faith cursed herself for the blush that was rushing to her face. "I've…I've gotta take a piss." That's it girl, she told herself chidingly, Sound like a twelve year old asshole. It always makes you feel better.

"Yes, well…next time, please just excuse yourself. There's no need for me to know the details." It was a half-hearted joke, accompanied by a look that said Giles knew that it was an excuse to leave the room and nothing more.

Faith winked at him. "Thought all you guys liked knowing what's going on down there."

She didn't stay to watch Giles' stumbling response.

Spike closed the door to the basement and nearly ran straight into Buffy. It was clear that she had been planning on going down there herself. Spike knew enough about Xander's current situation to know that wasn't a good idea. "Where're you going, pet?" He tried to keep his tone casual, conversational, as if he didn't know what her plan was. If he was in her shoes, he'd want to know what was going on down there too.

Then he thought of the cross that she'd shoved in Xander's face and part of his heart broke. Not for Xander, because to be perfectly honest, his opinion of Xander one way or another didn't go as deep as all of that. It broke because, well, if she was going to do that to Xander, someone who meant so much to her, there was really no hope for him. Spike was a selfish creature, soul or no soul, and he couldn't help but think about what this meant for him. Still, Xander's words ran through his head: I hope you're not doubting my loyalty, because your word seems to be the only one Buffy hears nowadays. He wondered how much of that was true, and how much of that was Xander's own bitterness.

Buffy blinked at him. "What do you mean, where am I going?"

Spike tilted his head, almost amused. "Thought we talked about this Slayer. He's not ready to see you." Spike wasn't surprised that the Summers' girls chose not to hear that part- as much as he loved Buffy, Joyce was really the only one of them without selective hearing.

"He's already eaten, and I just want to make sure that -"

"-It's him?" Spike interjected knowingly. "It is. You don't believe me?" He wasn't about to ask if she believed him and Faith; the answer to that one was clear.

Buffy shook her head. "It's not that. I need to know for myself."

"And how exactly are you gonna do that, slayer?" It seemed that Xander's bitterness about the situation was rubbing off on more than just Faith. He shook his head and started to close the basement door behind him. Buffy didn't seem to realize that Xander could hear them from here.

Buffy grabbed his wrist before he removed it from the door. "What's that supposed to mean?" She glared at him, gripping him as if he had done something wrong by speaking.

Spike glared right back, and wondered why he was even bothering. He'd gotten Xander blood already, and this little conflict wasn't about saving Buffy's life- the Slayer could handle herself just fine, even against a vampire that was a close friend-, nor was it about saving Xander's life. Maybe, Spike thought, he just wanted to test Xander's theory. See if he could actually get Buffy to back down. "The cross incident?" Buffy stared back at him, her expression telling him that, while she was surprised that he knew about it, she wasn't feeling guilty about it. "You know he could have bit you right then, and you wouldn't have even been ready for it."

"I was- I had a stake ready," Buffy protested.

"His attacking you then wouldn't have been about whether or not he had a soul," Spike snapped back, his frustration getting the best of him. Frustration, and a little bit of guilt, since Xander wouldn't have been in the basement if Spike hadn't been so slow. "It would have been bloody instinct, and you would have been staking droopy down there." Buffy paled, and Spike couldn't help but feel she deserved the shock back to reality. "And I'm saying that seeing you, Dawn, Will, or even the Watcher, would be too much for him right now. He's gonna be pissed about the cross, about Will's spell, and I can't say that, soul or not, he's gonna be able to control himself. Now, you want to risk that, you go ahead, but don't say I didn't bloody well warn you." Spike pulled away from her, and wished that he was piss drunk and away from the Summers' home.

Buffy shook her head stubbornly. "I need to see him."

"And you will, just not now," Spike insisted. "Now's not the time to go down there to make you feel better. Appeasing your sense of guilt's only gonna get one of you dead, and we don't know what kind of strength he's gonna have, or speed. You gotta remember, he's a fledge, but he was still bit by a bleedin' prehistoric vampire. You can't predict how this is gonna work out. Rather be safe than sorry, myself."

Buffy swallowed, still pale, looking towards the door of the basement. "Still need to know," she said numbly.

"Yeah, well, treating him like a bleedin' animal isn't gonna make him more act more reasonably with you," Spike commented. "Last thing we want to do, especially until he gets more acquainted with what he's capable of, is make him hate us." Not that Spike was scared; Spike could handle himself fine, without getting tripped up emotionally like the girls or Giles would.

"Hate?" Buffy spat the word in disbelief, like it wasn't a possibility. "He couldn't hate us."

"You ever have a friend burn you on purpose?" Spike asked simply, "Or chain you up in their basement?" Buffy took a step back, and Spike took a step forward. Maybe he could scare her into not going downstairs. Not scaring her into thinking that Xander would hurt her, but that he wouldn't ever want to see her again. "Or have a friend be so selfish that, when you're trying to keep yourself from killing them, they still can't get it, and try to force them to see you?" He turned towards the door for a moment. "Or have them forget that you can hear every word that's being said?"

Spike was prepared for almost anything, especially for Buffy to smack him. He wasn't prepared for her to start crying, to really start bawling, muttering things incoherently about Xander and how she was feeling. Spike held her, wishing that they were at least upstairs, where Xander couldn't make out the words of the conversation. He didn't want to deal with this, and he sure as hell didn't want to have anyone crying on his shoulder.

Even if it was Buffy, and even if he knew that he was the only one that she'd let hold her like this anymore.

With an aggravated groan, Xander yanked at his chains again. It had been bad enough to have to be shackled in the basement in the first place, but having to be fed by Spike was about all the humiliation that he was ready to take today. He wasn't nearly as hungry as he had been before, and he was sure that he could be trusted to walk around freely at this point, regardless what any one else might think. Any one else, of course, meant Spike, mostly, but that was a technicality that Xander was willing to live with- or, he thought dryly, un-live with. Whatever, he thought with a frustrated snarl.

The whole 'snarling' thing was something he was going to have to get used to. He'd have to ask how Spike dealt with it.

The worst part of this, at the moment, anyway, since his appetite was under control, was the fact that he felt wrong in his own skin. He felt like he didn't belong anymore, and the body belonged to…well, he wasn't sure who it belonged to, but it sure as hell wasn't his. With a shiver, he tried to place exactly what it was that felt odd. It was something in his muscles, the tension whenever he heard (and smelt) Buffy or Faith passed by. It was in the dreams that he had when he drifted off, the half-fantasy, half-nightmare of getting his hands on Willow or Buffy.

He'd had the dream at least three times since he'd been down there. In each one he confronted either of them, having an argument about…about how he felt invisible, felt taken advantage of. After Faith told him what Willow did, and after he heard Buffy upstairs, he had confronted them about that too. The hunger that he felt when he was awake worsened as their voices rose. The fight would become heated, and he was sure that, while Buffy always hit first, he attacked Willow. After that, he remembered blood and finally feeling sated. He was comfortable in his own body, for one quick moment, and then he would wake up back in the basement.

Xander wasn't exactly proud of the way the dream made him feel, and prayed to God- who probably wasn't listening to him anyway- that he wasn't going to prove Spike's fears were warranted.

He heard footsteps- Willow's. Apparently, she'd missed Spike's little lecture. He gave up on his chains for the moment, sitting back with a long and tired sigh.

Willow was making her way, hesitantly, down the steps, and she stopped at the bottom, as if she wasn't sure whether or not she wanted to be down here, or whether she was wanted down here. Her eyes were puffy; she'd been crying again. He'd heard a lot of crying today, and he wasn't sure that he was ready to deal with anymore. This whole emotional thing was making Xander exhausted.

He chose to speak first, to get it over with. "Hey Will, lurking over there isn't going to make you feel any better. Hell, it's not going to make me feel any better." He knew what she was thinking, and answered her silent question. "No, I'm not going to snack on you if you get close." Even if that was what he wanted to do, the chains weren't about to let up on him, and he'd end up hurting himself more than anything else.

"I don't know if…" Willow tried to find the right words to express what she was feeling. "…If I can."

Great, Xander thought bitterly. Buffy's so selfish that she desperately wants to see him at the most inopportune moments, and Willow's being selfish where she can't deal with being near him. He wasn't sure which one annoyed him more. After a short internal debate, he decided that Willow's way was worse.

"Okay," Xander said. He paused for a minute before adding, some what bitter sounding, "Then why are you here, Wills?"

Willow winced, and Xander felt guilty. He hadn't meant to hurt her feelings, he was just really sick of being down here and feeling the way that he was feeling. He was tense, and he wanted to skip to the upcoming conflict that he knew was going to happen. "I'm sorry, Xander, this is just all really hard, and I'm so sorry I did this to you."

Xander knew that she really wasn't sorry the way she was saying it. She was glad that he was still there, and that she didn't have to watch him get staked. She felt bad because he wasn't as happy about it as she was. She knew that he would have much rather have been dead than where he was. "It's okay." That was a lie too, and Xander knew that Willow could tell. It was what he was supposed to say though.

"Are you…are you alright?" Willow asked uncertainly.

Do I look it? "Been better…you think that I'll be allowed to walk around soon?"

Willow nodded, a bit too enthusiastically. "Oh, sure, of course! I mean, you've been pretty much you, so Buffy can't keep you chained up much longer."

"That's good…" Xander was already out of things to say, and Willow's heart was beating fast. Xander swallowed nervously, trying to block the sound of his ears. "Maybe you could ask her about it." Now, Xander willed her to hear.

Willow nodded, swallowing a lump in her own throat. "That's a…that's a good idea. I'll go and talk to her." She forced a smile, and Xander resisted inhaling the scent of her fear as much as he could. It shouldn't have been a good smell to him. He was starting to appreciate Angel more than he ever wanted to. "I'll see you later, okay?"

Xander didn't answer with anything more than a quickly waning smile.