Even as he fled the room, Spike’s mind was warning him that he had just made a terrible mistake. He should have just done as he had originally planned, and acted completely normal with Xander – made sure that Buffy did not suspect anything – done his best to keep the secret.
But in that moment, when the safety of that warm, pleasant, reassuring day he had just had was suddenly threatened by the intrusion of his feared enemy – Spike had forgotten what he was supposed to do, what Xander had ordered him to do. All he had known in that moment was that he could not stay in that room with Xander a moment longer.
Once he was upstairs, the bedroom door firmly shut behind him, his panic subsided into a sort of sick, heavy dread.
He had failed.
Buffy and Dawn had to suspect something now – he just knew it! They had to wonder about his rather consistent reaction to the boy’s presence – and worse, Xander had to know that they were wondering. Oh, certainly the boy would find a way to explain away Spike’s momentary lapse of control, to convince the girls that his reaction was not really about *Xander* personally, so much as a general result of the trauma he had been through.
And then, once he had soothed their suspicions, he would find a way to get Spike alone – and punish him.
When the door swung open only a few minutes later, Spike leapt up from the bed where he was sitting – backing quickly away a few steps, his glimmering blue eyes wide with terror – absolutely certain, in that moment, that it was Xander.
But it was Dawn.
The soft concern and compassion in her searching blue eyes brought him to tears, as she swiftly crossed the room to take his trembling hands in hers. “Spike – what’s wrong? What happened?”
He immediately looked away, swallowing back the desperate, wild impulse he suddenly had to simply tell her everything, to throw himself on the tender mercies of her and her sister, to just pour out the whole painful story and beg them to believe him, and protect him from Xander’s abuse…
“Spike – why are you so scared of Xander?” the girl asked simply, her blue eyes open and seeking – but her voice was full of a heartsick kind of ache, and those wide eyes shimmered with tears of apprehension and fear of what his answer might be.
*Can’t tell her,* he reminded himself. *Wouldn’t believe it – it’d hurt her – he’d *kill* her – can’t tell her…*
He broke eye contact with her again, afraid that she would see enough of the truth in his eyes to make his false answers meaningless. Shaking his head, he whispered in a soft, hollow voice, “Don’t know. Just – just scares me.”
Dawn was quiet for a moment, studying his cautiously guarded expression – and suddenly found herself wondering when he had regained the ability to guard his reactions – to be deceptive at all.
Had it happened the night before – when someone had stolen his safe haven from him and shattered his fragile, newborn sense of trust in her and her sister?
“Spike.” Dawn was as surprised as he was by the sudden hardness in her voice. “Look at me.”
Obedience was immediate, and Spike found himself needing to repeat the words again and again in his head, *Won’t hurt me – she wouldn’t – won’t hurt me…*
Her gaze was intense, piercing, as she asked in a tone of demand, “Did Xander do this to you?”
Panicked by the bluntly stated question, Spike looked away, shaking his head, backing away from her.
She did not allow it, moving in swiftly, a step for every one he retreated, her eyes seeking his as she spoke severely, “*No*! Spike, look at me! *Look at me!*”
His back hit the wall, and he raised his hands defensively, breaking down as he shook his head in pleading desperation. Dawn’s hands on his arms kept him from pushing past her and fleeing again, as she relentlessly sought his desperately averted gaze.
“*Tell me*!” She was crying herself by now, her voice low and shaking with frustration. “Spike, just tell me! Did he do this?”
Spike was sobbing by now, with fear and despair and confusion – though his fear was not of this slender girl in front of him, who loved him, he knew, regardless of the angry, taut emotions in her voice in this moment. She was his friend, and he knew on a deep, instinctual level that she would never hurt him; in fact, he was aware that in some way, he was hurting *her* by withholding the truth. He longed to pour it out to her – but he did not dare.
The truth could kill her – and Buffy.
He instinctively tried to withdraw further, but the wall at his back prevented it. All he wanted was just to get away, before her tears and her fury dragged the answer from him against his will – but there was nowhere to go…but down.
And as Spike slowly crumpled to his knees on the floor, shaking his head pleadingly, holding his hands up as if to ward off a blow, low, choked sobs escaping his throat – Dawn’s anger melted away into a flood of sorrow, and no little shame, for making him feel this way.
“Oh, Spike,” she whispered, relenting as she crouched down beside him and without hesitation, threw her arms around him. “Spike, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! It’s okay…it’s okay…”
“Please,” he whispered tearfully, clinging to her, grateful for the dearly needed affection, but with his eyes still tightly shut, refusing to face the intensity of her gaze, still afraid that he was dangerously close to breaking down and telling her everything. “Please don’t – don’t make me…please…”
“Don’t make you what, Spike?” Dawn frowned, confused, her face streaked with tears. “Tell me? I only want to help you, Spike – but I can’t — *we* can’t – if we don’t know who did this to you! Tell us – and we’ll make sure they never hurt you again — *never* — but you *have* to tell us!”
When her attempt at gentle explanation failed to produce in anything but more tears and deeper sobs – Dawn gave up, releasing a heavy sigh of resignation as she just held Spike closer to her, allowing her own tears to flow freely.
“Okay,” she whispered her acceptance, running her fingers lightly through his hair. “Okay…don’t worry about it. You don’t have to say anything…I understand…it’s okay…”
Her next words took him by surprise, and Spike was not sure whether to be relieved or apprehensive, at the implications of them.
“If he scares you – for *whatever* reason – we won’t let Xander near you, I promise…”
While Dawn was doing her best to calm Spike upstairs – Buffy was dealing with a much larger job – keeping the peace among the emotionally volatile group gathered in the living room.
It was quite a tall order, considering that she was feeling especially volatile herself at the moment.
When Spike disappeared up the stairs, followed quickly by Dawn, Buffy turned her full attention on her friend, staring at him dubiously for a long moment.
“What?” Xander finally asked, shaking his head slightly in innocent confusion.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Buffy replied, her voice carefully calm. “Why every single time Spike sees you, he acts like we’re about to tie him down and torture him.”
“Now I *wonder* where he’d get an idea like that,” Angel snarled sarcastically, his fury barely controlled as he took a couple of menacing steps toward the boy.
Buffy held out an arm to stop him, as Xander hastily took a backward step – but she said nothing in the boy’s defense, and kept her somber, questioning eyes focused on him – waiting.
“Now wait just a second here,” Xander protested slowly, a slight note of alarm in his voice as he recognized the suspicion on the faces of everyone in the room. “What exactly is this? Deadboy here starts running his mouth, saying how he thinks I did something to Spike – and you all just automatically believe him?”
“Not automatically,” Giles spoke up, his voice soft and controlled, as he rose from the couch and stepped cautiously toward the tense stand off taking place in the foyer. “I assure you, Xander – no one in this room *wants* to think that you could possibly have done such a thing. It would come as a terrible surprise to all of us to find that…”
“Speak for yourself,” Angel snapped. “I’m not surprised – not at all! He’s always hated Spike…”
“I didn’t do anything!” Xander exclaimed, outrage in his voice, wide-eyed as he turned to Buffy. “Buffy, you can’t actually believe this!”
Buffy finally looked away from the wounded expression in his deep brown eyes. “I – I don’t want to, Xan…I don’t. But – but there’s just so many things…”
“Like what?” Xander challenged, crossing his arms over his chest defensively, though his tone was bold and confident.
“Like the way that Spike acts around you, when he doesn’t act that scared around *anyone* else…” Angel pointed out before the Slayer could speak.
“Like the fact that you and Giles were the only ones here last night – you even admit to seeing him – and last night Spike got hurt,” Buffy said quietly, her eyes searching her friend’s face for the truth.
“I told you, he had a nightmare!” Xander said incredulously. “He was thrashing around everywhere! He must have hit his head on something…”
“He was ‘thrashing around everywhere’, and he didn’t manage to wake up Dawn?” Buffy countered, her voice rising with frustration. “How is that even possible?”
“I don’t know, to tell you the truth, Buffy!” Xander retorted in a voice full of wounded indignation. “But it happened! I can’t believe you’d think that of me – after everything we’ve been through…”
“Oh, don’t even try to pull that with her!” Angel snarled, pushing forward against Buffy’s restraining arm in an effort to get at the boy. “I know you were there, in those caves where you kept him prisoner and *tortured* him – I could smell you there, boy! I know what you did to him! And to have the nerve to *pretend* like you’re Buffy’s friend, when all this time you’re lying to her to her face…”
“Angel,” Buffy softly spoke up, trying to silence him. “Please…”
“No!” Angel snapped, turning on her for a moment. “I can’t believe you’re going to let him get away with this again!”
“Me?” Xander laughed bitterly. “What about you? Did you ask him what *he* was doing last night, after we left here?” he turned to Buffy. “He attacked me in my building last night! He would have killed me if someone hadn’t come out and threatened to call the police!”
Buffy turned wide, startled eyes on Angel, who just stared at her with a stubborn boldness that said that Xander’s words were true, and no, he was not the least bit sorry.
She looked away from him, shaking her head and letting out a weary sigh. “Look – I’m not accusing anyone,” she said softly. “Not yet. We just – don’t have enough to go on to know who did this yet. But – I’m *going* to find out. And when I do – no matter *who* it is – they’re going to pay for what they did to Spike.”
As she spoke, she looked around the room at each of the three men in turn, finally bringing her eyes back to rest on Xander. “And in the mean time – I know you meant well last night, but it’s only complicated matters, Xander. No one, and I mean *no one* is going to be alone with Spike besides me or Dawn. That way, no one can say…”
“I don’t believe this!” Xander threw up his hands in outrage, turning away for a moment before looking Buffy in the eye, his own blazing with fury. “I was actually making progress with him last night – you should be *happy* about that…and now you’re still practically accusing me of…”
“Yeah. Lots of progress,” Angel sneered, but his eyes were dark with anger at what had been done to his childe. “We could see that so well when you came in tonight…”
“No one’s accusing you, Xander,” Buffy began, her voice tired and weak.
“Oh, yeah? But you think I did it – don’t you?” he challenged her, his eyebrows raised in a question.
Buffy did not answer for a long moment, as each of the three men waited for her all-important response. Finally, she answered softly, “No. I don’t. Xander, I know you – I don’t think you could do a thing like that, to anyone – but don’t you see? We have to do this right – keep *everyone* away from him – to know for sure…you know?”
“*What*?” Angel’s voice was low and deadly, as he regarded her with incredulous eyes.
“Don’t,” Buffy stopped him sharply, her tone warning – her solemn eyes never leaving Xander’s face.
Xander studied her expression for a long moment, before letting out a sigh. “Okay,” he said quietly. He paused before adding, “I guess I understand, Buffy. I mean, I guess it *did* look kind of bad,” he let out a sad laugh, nodding toward the stairs where Spike had disappeared.
His expression darkened as he glanced derisively at Angel. “Just – keep him away from me.” A humorless smirk formed on his lips as he added, “I’m going home, anyway…it’s probably better right now, all things considered – do me a favor and keep him here until I have time to get there, ‘kay?”
Buffy nodded without smiling, glancing at Angel. “Yeah – we’re definitely going to talk about that before he goes *anywhere*.”
“Buffy – you can’t…” Angel began.
“Yes, I can,” she cut him off, glaring at him warningly. “Just – stay out of this, Angel. This is between me and Xander…”
“No, this is between *me* and Xander,” he objected.
Buffy stepped quickly between them, her arms crossed over her chest as she attempted to stare her ex-lover down.
He would not be stared down – not over this.
“Later, Buffy…” Xander said simply as he headed back out the door, shutting it firmly behind him – but only after casting Angel a smug smile over her shoulder.
A heavy silence fell over the room in his absence, Angel and Buffy staring at each other, Giles watching them closely for any sign of actual physical conflict.
“I can’t believe that you fell for him,” Angel finally spoke slowly, his rage and frustration barely restrained, his eyes flames of fury boring into hers.
Buffy did not respond for a long moment. Finally, she sighed, looking away, relaxing as she leaned back against the door, raising her hands to her eyes in a gesture of exhaustion.
“I didn’t,” she replied at last.
Angel blinked, startled, before saying slowly, “Come again?”
“I didn’t believe him,” Buffy clarified, a note of painful disbelief in her voice as she looked up at him through stricken eyes. “He did it. I know he did it.”
“How can you be sure?” Giles asked cautiously, stepping forward with a frown.
Buffy looked at him for a moment, blinking back tears, as she finally answered, “Because I never told him that Spike hit his *head*.”