Spoilers for episodes 'School Hard' , 'What's My Line?' parts 1&2, 'Surprise', 'Innocence', 'Phases', 'Becoming' parts 1&2, 'Lover's Walk', 'The Initiative'

Willow eyed the popcorn bowl where it sat next to Spike's hip on the couch. Puffy, buttery, just-crunchy-enough goodness lay sprawled in the ceramic bowl, almost calling to her. 'Willow' it said 'you want to eat me, Willow. What's a movie without me? Come on, my salty goodness will make the movie-watching sooo much better.'

She twisted her mouth to one side, thinking about it. Xander, sitting on the far side of the couch, laughed at a joke in the movie she had apparently missed because of the popcorn temptation. Silly she said to herself. Not gonna miss more of it over this

"Ummm, uh . . Spike?"

The vampire turned his head to look at her, eyebrows quizzically raised, and suddenly she thought popcorn, not so important.

Spike had only recently come under the gang's protection since he'd escaped from the Initiative's facility. His first act as a free vampire had been to go to Buffy's dorm, intent on killing her, but instead he'd found Willow. He tried to bite her but had some kind of seizure. He tried to bite her again, and again just ended up yelling and cursing at the sudden, debilitating, unexplained pain spidering through his head.

A few days before that, Willow had been competing with some sexy-werewolf-singer girl for Oz' affections and wasn't really feeling like sexy-girl. It turned out she didn't really need to compete, but Oz left town – and her – hoping to find some mystical way to control or suppress or something his werewolf side. Buffy told the gang that she was 'wallowing in a black pit of despair' or something like that and, yeah, that pretty much summed it up. Then Spike comes along and can't bite her. Not helpful for the self-esteem. But, she did hit Spike with a lamp and captured him for Buffy. . . well, almost, anyway. More like she struggled to get the door open only to have the commandos knock it in, and ran out of the dorm room and into the confusion that was the hallway full of commandos, leaving Spike conked out on the floor to fight his way out of the building, but she'd been freaked. Then he showed up at Giles' place around Thanksgiving, huddled under a blanket and with smoke pouring off him, 'cause of the sunlight, wanting the watcher to find out what was wrong with him. Since then they'd kept him chained up in the bathtub. The gang found out pretty quickly that he couldn't hurt any of them, but, of course, they still really didn't trust him.

Well, except for Xander's cousin. She'd come to town, visiting, and was staying at Giles' place to help baby-sit Spike. Thing was, she didn't know him like the rest of the gang did. She said that meant she wasn't biased or anything, but she seemed to actually like Spike, which. . . ew, just ew. But, well, she had gotten more info out of Spike in two days than the gang had gotten in two years, and he'd been less snarky with her around. He'd actually been almost pleasant at times. Like this afternoon, Sam had called Xander – who she called Lexi, and that just made everyone laugh – and asked if the scoobies wanted to have an afternoon movie-night. They couldn't ever have a real movie-night, since Buffy had to patrol, but they could all pile into a room with a TV and just hang until dark. Giles' place was best since it was almost underground, so there were no windows or glare on the screen, and since Giles had called it a day and was making dinner in the kitchen, they weren't really disrupting his routine. Besides, ever since graduation, they'd done all their meeting-and-usual-library stuff at his house.

Oz had been back for a couple days. Called it a 'trial period'. He wanted to see if the techniques he'd been learning from the mystics were working to suppress his wolfy side. It would be the full moon in about a week, and Xander had helped him fix up his cage, so then they'd see. If it didn't work, he'd go away again and not come back until he could make it through the full moon without getting extra hairy. Until then, though, they could cuddle and try to see if they still fit into each other's lives. That was another reason for the movie fest. It gave the gang a chance to just hang in a setting that wasn't all worky but wasn't as loud and crazed as the UC Sunnydale parties seemed to be.

They'd watched 'The Mummy' first, and Giles had joined them for a while, pointing out inaccuracies in rituals or phrasing of incantations. It was kinda annoying, but they'd all seen the movie before, so it wasn't too bad. Well, everyone except Spike had seen it already. He seemed to really like Imhotep, the mummy-guy, they supposed because of his obsession with resurrecting Anak-Sun-Amun. At one point, Xander had even leaned over and said "y'know, Spike, she's not Drusilla."

At first, Spike had only responded by rolling his eyes. Then about a minute later, when everyone had started breathing again, he said "Yeah, Harris, but you remind me an awful lot of Jonathan."

Someone laughed at that, and it turned out to be Giles. When he noticed everyone was looking at him, he suddenly became very absorbed in cleaning his glasses. "Ahem. I'm not sure that I see the points of comparison, Spike. Xander isn't a thief or a gambler."

Xander rolled his eyes. "Wow. Thanks."

"Look, he's fightin' the villain but he isn't the hero, he's not terribly strong or brave, and he irritates the people who actually get things done." Spike finished ticking the list off on his fingers and scoffed, muttering "sounds like Harris to me."

Buffy bit her lip, not wanting to laugh at her enemy insulting her friend, but she couldn't help it. He'd made a decent point, but he hadn't seen the end. He didn't know how helpful Jonathan ended up being in killing the baddie, and Spike had never really gotten what the scoobies did, how much they helped her. How much she needed them. So she let herself giggle a little, but shot Xander an apologetic look at the same time.

For a little while, they forgot that one of the people sitting in their midst wasn't, strictly speaking, a person. It was almost easier to forget that he was an evil creature who'd tried to kill each of them on numerous occasions. He wasn't in game face, he hadn't said anything threatening or creepy, or even mean. Even comparing Xander to Jonathan was something Buffy might've said if Xander had said something to her first, like he did with Spike. If Spike had really wanted to call him a coward, he'dve compared him to Benny, or if he wanted to call him stupid, compared him to one of the American treasure-hunters. But he'd been surprisingly civil to everyone.

Willow wondered if the niceness had anything to do with Sam. She treated Spike like a person, not like an evil thing, and he responded by acting like a person.

That's probably why she's gotten so much out of him. I know that if people were threatening me or scared of me or calling me names I wouldn't wanna help them. I'd probably hate them right back.

Of course, the fact that Sam wasn't just nice to Spike but that she was really nice to him probably helped, too. Like right now, she was sitting next to him on the couch and kinda leaning against him, like they were a. . . and again with the ew! His arm was around her and, sure, it was weird, but it seemed to make him more mellow. Definitely mellower than he'd been since Dru left him. And better than he was with Harmony.

Mellow is better than crazed, so maybe it's a good that Sam's got weird taste in guys. Eh, taste, maybe not the best word choice. . .

The next movie was 'Interview With The Vampire', and this time Spike was the first heckler. He lost it when Lestat was feeding on Louis and they started to fly.

"I can't believe someone would write that. Wish I bloody could fly, though."

He was quickly joined by Buffy and the rest of the gang in pointing out mistakes. They were most vehement about the whole stakes-not-working thing and the fact that the vampires had reflections. Spike was especially vocal about the whole 'dead blood' thing. "It doesn't DO anything to us, it just doesn't taste as good."

At the part about siring the little girl being against the rules, Buffy spoke up. "That's a weird idea. So what about the Anointed One? I mean, he was a vampire and he couldn'tve been more than ten years old when he was sired." She turned to Willow, confused. "What happened to him, anyway? We never heard about him after that night of Saint Vegetarian or whatever was supposed to happen."

Spike rolled his eyes. "Saint Vigius, and I killed the little twerp. Threw 'im in a cage and pulled it up to sunlight."

Now Xander looked confused. "Wasn't he supposed to be your leader, or whatever? Not that I mind when the bad guys are dusting each other, 'cause that just leaves less for Buff to mop up."

Spike shrugged. "You said it, Harris; he was our leader, but he never got his hands dirty. He just sat there in all his pre-pubescent anointed glory, having the vampires who were older and knew how to read reciting prophecies and such from dusty bloody tomes. I never went in for tradition much, or stupid rituals, and with him in charge the place was swarming with both. Besides, I don't care much for being led."

Buffy swung her green eyes over to fix Spike with an incredulous glare. "Right. And the fact that killing him left you in charge played absolutely no part in your thought process. You're unbelievable, Spike."

He grinned at her obvious disapproval. "Good to know I can still shock you, Slayer." He lifted his eyebrows and gave her a thoughtful look. "The boy irritated me. Ending up the boss wasn't my plan, but it made getting Dru's cure easier," his face hardened. "Until, of course, you and the super friends showed up."

Xander broke in. "Yeah, Spike, about that. When you and Drusilla were assembling the Judge, and when Giles and Buff saw you after Angel had. . . " he shot a look at Buffy, suddenly deeply uncomfortable. "After he was Angelus again, they said you were rolling around in a pretty hot set of wheels. Where did you get that wheelchair? Undead medical supply store?"

Spike's upper lip twitched like he was about to sneer at Xander, but he didn't say anything. Hitting the boy would have been fun, but the chip attack which would inevitably follow would be significantly less fun.

Xander glanced at the screen and noticed that while this conversation had been going, something big seemed to have happened in the movie and they'd all missed it. He grabbed the remote and scrolled it back to where Armand was arguing with Louis.

Now Spike tensed his jaw, trying to be patient with her. "Is there something you wanted, Willow?" His voice was deep and smooth like wet silk, but somehow not threatening.

Willow realized with a little jump that Spike was looking at her expectantly, and that she'd been spaced this whole time, ever since she'd said his name. "Oh, I uhh. . . I just wanted to ask you for the popcorn."

He tilted his head in a typical Spike gesture and smiled a little at the mundaneness of her request. "Sure," he picked up the bowl and leaned over the arm of the couch so Willow could reach it. His fingers jerked against the hot ceramic as he held it out to her. "Best be careful, Red. It's hot."

The guys were more than a little surprised that he bothered to warn her. They expected that, as per usual, Spike didn't care about them. Him not wanting Willow to hurt her hands was weird.

Willow bobbed her head and smiled shakily at the vampire. "Thanks, Spike."

She took a minute to fiddle with her sleeves, pulling them down to cover most of her hands so they'd act like potholders, and then reached for the bowl. She took it from him carefully with both hands, and the bowl was hot! Willow yelped softly and put the bowl down quick, blowing on her fingers and checking to make sure none of the popcorn had spilled.

As soon as Willow yelped, Spike's face crumpled and an instant later he let out a loud, pained yell, arching back into the couch, trying to press his head into the cushions as his hands flew up to clutch tightly at his head. On it's way up, one of his hands connected solidly with Sam's jaw. Her surprised, regular-volume 'ow' was easily drowned out by another raw scream from Spike, followed by a string of very colorful language, some of which no one in the room, aside from Giles, was familiar with.

Buffy asked "what happened?" just as Giles hurried out of the kitchen, holding a large knife. "Did Spike try something?"

He hadn't been chopping anything . . He must have grabbed the biggest thing at hand, in case of trouble.

"No, I. . . ow!" Willow waved her fingers in the air, trying to cool them. Oz moved like a flash, going from his chair to the kitchen, making a bee-line for the ice cubes.

Willow smiled at Oz distractedly as he came back and touched the cloth-wrapped ice to her fingers. "He just handed me the popcorn bowl and it kinda burned my fingers, a little."

Buffy shook her head and Xander sat forward, narrowing his eyes at the still-in-agony vampire sitting so close to his cousin. "But the chip fired again. Why?"

Sam looked up from Spike's face for the first time. When the first chip attack hit, she'd sat up and had been about to put her arm around him, to try to soothe him, and then he'd knocked her chin, setting off more agonizing electricity in his brain.

"He hit my jaw a little. Not on purpose!" she added quickly. "It barely hurt. He just was trying to-"

"Yeah, okay." Buffy nodded, holding up a hand to stop her. The fact that Sam didn't hate and fear Spike really bugged her, but like Willow, she recognized that Sam's treatment of Spike had resulted in a wealth of info and much better behavior. Still, just then she couldn't help thinking, maybe wrongly, that Sam sounded just like a battered woman making excuses for her husband.

This whole time, Spike was huddled up against Sam, a tense, white-blonde ball of misery. He grit his teeth and kept his watery eyes squeezed tightly shut, futilely trying to block out the pain.

Big Bad indeed! I'm pretty bloody scary right now.

Sam's arms were around him and, not knowing what else to do to help him feel better, she started petting his hair back from his forehead. After a minute or so, Spike sagged against her. His eyes stayed shut and he was still holding his head, but now his hands had relaxed slightly. Sam stopped petting him and gently lowered his hands from his brow, putting them by his sides and guiding his head to rest more safely on her shoulder. He moved his head slightly so he wouldn't slide off and she resumed gently stroking his brow, all the while trying to make him more comfortable.

Buffy looked over at Willow and Oz. "Will, are you alright?"

She handed the ice back to Oz. "Yeah. It's nothing." She looked at Spike, clearly confused. "It doesn't even hurt anymore. So that's all it takes?" The guys looked confused. "For, I mean for the chip to go off. Cause if it is, then, geez."

Xander shook his head. "He didn't even hurt her, he just handed her something hot. And he told her it was hot. He warned her. He obviously didn't want to harm her." He whistled low and shook his head again, checked to see that Giles was back in the kitchen. "The Initiative really did a number on you, Spike."

"Yeah." The vampire's voice was incredibly rough, like he'd been gargling with broken glass. "Don't think I'll be going back to their hotel." He cleared his throat to reduce the roughness. "Lousy room service."

Everyone in the room relaxed a little, showing various-sized smiles or smirks. None of them genuinely liked Spike, except Sam, but none of them had enjoyed seeing him suffer so much for doing so little. Generally speaking, torture wasn't their game. Yes, Spike had tried to kill Buffy for nearly a whole year and then he'd come back, tried again, and kidnapped Willow and Xander last year, but he'd never tortured them. He let them go, eventually, without harming them. He'd even helped Buffy beat Angelus and stopped him from breaking Giles, so, bad as he was, he wasn't all bad, and given the fact that now he was essentially harmless, they just couldn't stomach seeing him suffer like that.

"Here." Willow took the ice back from Oz again and handed it to Sam. "Try this."

"Thanks." Sam smiled at her, then looked down to carefully press the ice to Spike's forehead.

Xander held up a finger. "Uh, Will, what are you doing?"

She turned, rolling her eyes at him. "Xander, he didn't hurt me, and I don't think he should be punished for not hurting me. That's more something he should be rewarded for. Besides, I don't need the ice."

As soon as the ice touched his forehead Spike winced a little, but after a second he relaxed even more.

"Better?" Sam asked, and he nodded very slightly. "How about some industrial-strength aspirin?"

"Depends what the Slayer says." Something about being held like this, about having someone genuinely wanting to help him feel better, struck a chord with him, and Spike found himself not caring quite as much about being tough in front of his long-time enemy. He opened his eyes and found that Sam had wiped the damp away from his cheeks, so now it didn't look like he'd cried at all. He looked up at her and smiled wanly. "Thanks, poppet."

She nodded and muttered almost silently, so only his vampire-hearing could distinguish the words, "don't want you to lose all your dignity." He smiled faintly, grateful. Then she lifted her voice to a normal volume, smiling happily. "Buffy, could Spike have some aspirin? He promises to not use it to unleash Armageddon."

Spike looked up at her from under his dark eyebrows, incredulous. "You're a cheeky one, luv." His voice was deeper than usual, husky from the pain.

She flashed him a smile. "Always."

Buffy pursed her lips, looking at the ceiling, hoping to find some patience there. "Fine. But if Giles doesn't have any, I am not going out to buy him some."

Giles came out of the kitchen, drying his hands on a dishtowel. "If I don't have any what, Buffy?"

"Aspirin, for your vampire houseguest. He's got another of his freaky headaches."

Giles pursed his lips and looked up at the ceiling impatiently.

Buffy watched his mannerisms and felt her eyes go wide. Oh, this is too creepy. At least I don't dress like him. Tweed can not co-exist with the rest of my wardrobe.

Giles sighed. "I suppose. It's, uh, in the medicine cabinet, over the bathroom sink."

"I'll get it!" Willow jumped up from her seat on the carpet and quickly found the bottle.

When she came back over towards the couch, Buffy cocked her head curiously at the redhead. "Why were you so quick to volunteer, Will? I'm sure Sam would've been just as happy to."

Willow shook her head. "She's busy. Besides, it's kinda my fault." Willow stopped, struggled with opening the bottle for a minute. Buffy smiled, reached over and took the bottle, and had it opened and handed back in seconds. "How's it your fault?"

Willow ducked her head sheepishly. "I wanted popcorn and the bowl was hot."

Buffy shook her head. "Not your fault, Will."

"Yeah, I know. I just . . . " She glanced over at Spike. "I just feel bad, is all. Look, I know he's been a baddie for a long time now." She shifted uncomfortably in place. "He tried to bite me last week, but since he's helpless I think we should try to help him, not just use him for information about the people who did this."

"Willow," Buffy crossed her arms, her voice dangerously low. "Please tell me you're not suggesting that we try to help Spike get back to how he was when he was, you know, trying to kill us?"

Willow's already pale face went a shade closer to white. "Oh, no! Of course not, I just. . . I don't like to see pain like that. On anyone."

Buffy nodded. Of the gang, Willow was certainly the most sympathetic. She'd told Buffy that when Spike hadn't been able to bite her, she'd actually tried to make him feel better about it. Buffy shook her head in disbelief at the memory. Only Willow.

Giles came out of the kitchen with a full glass of water. "Here, Willow." He handed her the glass but kept his voice really low. "Give this to Spike."

"Okay," Willow nodded, looking a little confused. "Thanks. But why are we whispering?"

Giles glanced at Buffy, hoping she's get it.

Buffy nodded at her watcher before smiling at Willow. "It's nothing, Will." Now she was whispering too. "Giles just doesn't want—"

Willow bobbed her head quickly. "Spike to know that he's trying to help him. I get it," but a puzzled look drifted across her face. "It's stupid. Why shouldn't he know that Giles can be nice to him too?"

"Because after fighting him for so long, I'm not sure I want to be his damn nursemaid."

Buffy's eyes went wide. It wasn't often that Giles used anything resembling rough language. "Wow."

Giles shot her a sideways glance. "I'm, I'm sure that you agree, Buffy. Having that- that thing sleeping in my house is unnerving enough, and now that we've unchained him. . . " Giles shook his head. "He isn't a guest. I don't want him to think that he's welcome here."

Willow nodded. "Gotcha. So I'll just," she glanced down at the pill bottle and the water. "Yeah."

She headed over to the couch again. Oz moved slightly to let her pass, putting an affectionate hand on her shoulder when she brushed by. While she'd been talking with Buffy, Xander had noticed that the movie was still running. He'd stopped it and now he was rewinding the tape, trying to find where they were with Lestat and Louis before things went wonky.

Spike was sitting up again, but he'd let his head flop backwards against the couch cushions and was looking up with an unreadable expression on his face. Sam's arm was behind his shoulders and she seemed poised to hug him at a moment's notice, should the need arise. Once he'd sat up, Spike had removed the ice and handed it to Sam. He felt silly with it on his forehead. Yes, his head was still throbbing angrily, and yes, the ice had been wonderfully soothing, but he was still proud enough to not want his jailers to see him holding it to his forehead. He reasoned that, if he could sit up on his own he shouldn't need the ice. After all, he could take the pain.

"Uhh, Spike?"

He slowly lifted his head and saw Willow standing in front of him, fidgeting, but didn't say anything, just looked at her with that cool, unreadable expression. He did for a second, anyway, because moving his head hadn't helped the pain much at all, and he grimaced, shielding his eyes from the lamp's glare with one hand. "That it, then?"

She nodded. "Yeah. I'm not sure about how much you should take, though. If vampires have a stronger tolerance or whatever, you'll need more than a human would."

Xander, having cued the movie up, sauntered over. Time to bother Spike. "I've seen him drink, Will, and if that's anything to go by, he probably can't handle more than half a dose."

Spike glared at him. "Piss off, Harris. I can down half a bottle of scotch and still win a fight with a Frarl demon." He scoffed. "I doubt that after half a bottle you could walk on your own."

Oz shrugged at Xander. "He's got a point, man. Sorry."

"So," Sam leaned forward, wanting to stop any more unpleasantness. "I guess five pills should do it. If it doesn't, you can always take more." She grinned lopsidedly. "You can't exactly overdose."

Spike turned his head to her and nodded, his expression instantly softening. "Like you said, poppet."

Willow shook five pills out of the bottle and into Spike's palm. It still unnerved her that his skin was so cold. Somehow, she always expected him to be warm, just like everyone else. She had it in her head that when things were cold they weren't supposed to move, so since Spike moved. . . anyway, life on the Hell mouth would always find little ways to remind everyone that they really weren't in Kansas anymore.

She handed him the glass of water and he downed the pills in one smooth motion. After, he started to drink the rest of the water, then stopped and offered it to Sam. She smiled at him, motioned for Willow to give her the pill bottle and took out an aspirin for herself. Xander looked at her questioningly and she rubbed her jaw in explanation. "It really doesn't hurt much, but as long as the painkillers are right here I might as well."

Xander nodded and Sam took the pill with the rest of the water, then closed the bottle and gave both back to Willow. "Thanks."

Willow nodded. "No problem. I'll just, erm, put this stuff away."

She was just walking away when Oz tapped her. She looked confused, so he jerked his head towards Spike. "Think he wants to say something."

"Yeah, Spike? Was there something you wanted to. . . say?"

He blinked lazily at her for a beat, then he seemed to wake up. "Just that I'm sorry about the bowl, Red. Didn't mean for that to happen."

Oz put his hand over the glass, wanting to make sure she didn't drop it from shock. Willow handed it to him and headed back over to the couch, leaving Oz staring at the glass in his hand. "Okay, so this is. . . this."

She sat down on the arm of the couch, shaking her head and smiling. "Yeah, no, I know that. It's not your fault, Spike, and see," she held out her hands right under his nose. "No burns or anything. It's a non-thing."

Spike nodded, seeming to relax. "Alright. Where's the watcher?"

Willow smiled nervously, looking over the back of the couch and across the room. "Oh, he's back in the kitchen. Why?"

Spike looked at her steadily, but his mouth twitched. "Luv, tell the watcher I know I'm not welcome here." His mouth finally quirked into a wry grin. "And thank him for the water, too."

Willow's jaw dropped. "Oh, you heard all that?"

Spike tilted his head, raised his eyebrows. "Vampire hearing, luv. I can hear things you can't. Like just now, I heard your heart speed up."

Willow looked thoroughly freaked by that, which he usually would have enjoyed, but since she was one of the two people who actually gave a damn about him, he couldn't. Not really. Now, weirdly enough, he wanted to make her feel less threatened.

He sat forward a bit, looked at her earnestly. "I wasn't listening for it, Willow. I just hear more than you do."

She nodded, shrank a little closer to Oz, and tried not to squeak. Angel had said things like that too, when he'd had a soul, but it had still always been creepy. "Okay, I'm just gonna, put the stuff away, now."

Xander watched Willow walk away from the couch, then let his gaze swing back to the vampire. "Why don't you just admit it, Spike. You're looking for any opening you can get."

Xander was fuming, or at least that's what it looked like. Part of him, though, a big part, actually, wanted Spike to argue with him, to react. If he did, then at least Xander'd have an excuse to stake the undead bastard, and they'd be rid of him. Spike wasn't the only one looking for an opening.

"Come on, Buff. What higher purpose is it serving to keep his sorry ass alive?"

In a rare display of self control, Spike didn't respond. He knew what Xander was doing and that if he did anything to support Xander's argument, his unlife would be forfeit. Still, he twitched a bit. He remembered his own big debut in Sunnydale, two years ago; his first real run-in with the Slayer, their first battle. He'd crashed some parent night thing at the high school, fully prepared for carnage, and all of a sudden his Grandsire had shown up, holding a boy – Xander – in a headlock. Angel had offered to share the boy's blood with him, but it had only been a trick so Spike hadn't actually bitten the boy. Now, however, he fervently wished that he had. That he had and drained him dry, trap be damned. At least then, if he'd gone through with it, the boy wouldn't be yammering at him now.

"Shove off, Harris."

A sharp voice cut in. "Lexi, quit starting fights."

It was Sam, giving her cousin a seriously pissed-off look. She'd been watching Spike, had seen him twitch, and didn't want her cousin to do anything stupid, because she had a sinking feeling that she knew how it would turn out.

"Huh?" He looked at her, flummoxed. "What, you mean bothering Spike? He doesn't mind, do ya, buddy?" He clapped Spike on the side of his head roughly.

The vampire winced very very slightly, a few muscles in his face tensing in pain, and then he growled. "Don't touch me, Harris."

Foolishly, Xander leaned forward, getting right in the vampire's face. "Ohh, big bad vampire angry at the wittle human. What's the Big Bad gonna –"

Xander didn't get a chance to finish the taunt, because Spike punched him in the mouth. Of course, the next minute he crumpled to his knees, screaming as the chip fired and then winding down to a soft, murmuring whimper as the pain slowly faded from the first blinding flash to a barely manageable skull-splitting migraine. This, on top of the residual pain from the first two successive chip attacks.

Sam was beside him in next to no time, supporting his shoulders so he wouldn't fall and holding his head against her chest. Ever so gently she stroked her hand across his brow, hoping to soothe him. Once he'd stopped shaking, she rounded on Xander, pure rage radiating from her eyes. He actually stumbled back a step, though whether it was an after-affect of Spike's punch or from the force of Sam's glare wasn't clear.

"Stop it!" She hissed at him, not wanting to raise her voice for fear of worsening the pounding in Spike's head.

"Xander, if you're this sadistic a bastard to someone who can't fight back, then from what you've told me, you're much worse than Spike ever was. I'm ashamed to be related to you. And you, d'you still think he's a threat, that he'll kill you all in your beds?" Sam had shifted her glare to Buffy.

Buffy stared at her former enemy, curled up semi-fetal on the floor, trying not to whimper because his pride wouldn't allow it with her standing there. "I don't know." She was seriously thrown to see Spike reduced to such a pitiful state, but she wasn't nearly ready to give up on hating him.

"Hey, I'm not bleedin' harmless." The soft, indignant protest drifted up from near Sam's shoulder.

Sam looked down at him, apologetic. "I didn't mean anything by it, but if you're not a threat they won't stake you." He seemed slightly mollified, so she added "and I don't want them to stake you."

Giles stepped in, trying to stop the situation from worsening. "Xander, it would be best if you stopped taunting Spike. It's obvious that you're only trying to provoke him, and we've all just seen how that unfolds. Since Spike can't even fight to defend himself, it really is unfair to purposefully bait him."

"Didn't know you cared, Watcher." Spike looked up at him unsteadily but curiously.

"I don't." Giles' tone wasn't he harshest they'd ever heard it, but it was certainly in the running. He cleared his throat, trying to gather his professionalism around him like a protective cloak. "However, this is my home and I will not have any fighting here. You came here for my protection, Spike, and you have it, because it is my sworn duty to help protect the defenseless, and right now that includes you."

Even if Giles was going to protect the vampire, he still couldn't resist getting a few digs in. He knew that being called 'defenseless' and not dangerous had to sting the vampire's pride, so he didn't bother to chose his words with any regard to Spike's ego.

"Wow. Talk about a cruel irony." Everyone stared at Oz. "I mean, it's like you've always been fighting him, and now it's your job to protect him. Ironic."

Willow grabbed the ice from the couch and joined them on the floor. "Here, again" she held the ice out to Sam.

Sam laughed lightly. "I think we were just here." She held it to Spike's forehead again, her shoulders relaxing when his pain seemed to lessen.

A soft sound of relief from Spike was followed by a deep voiced "thanks, Willow."

"Oh," she smiled, patted his arm awkwardly. "Don't mention it."

One corner of his mouth quirked into a brief smile, then jerked into a frown as he suppressed a wince.

"Easy, Spike." Sam resumed petting back his hair, this time using the ice to stroke it into place while her other arm held him against her chest. The motion seemed to help him relax. She just hoped that meant it alleviated some of his pain.

"The irritating human's been scolded."

He smirked at that, noticing that Xander was retreating towards the kitchen. Good riddance. Might even get a few minute's peace, now.

Sam was glad that he liked her joke but worried by how quiet he'd been. They still didn't know what the chip actually did to Spike, just that it hurt him pretty badly and disabled him for a while each time after it went off. She'd only known him for a few days, but so far she'd learned that one thing he wasn't was tacit, unless he was a) content — watching Passions or drinking perfectly heated blood — b) asleep, or c) in an incredible amount of pain. He'd complain about minor discomfort, but not if he was in agony. There were other ways to tell, too. One was by how rough his voice was. That generally meant he was in a fair amount of pain, or at least more than he was letting on. Another way to tell was by how glib he was being, but now he seemed too tired to waste any energy being snarky. Now the only thing she could think of doing was trying to make him more comfortable.

"D'you want to go back to the couch?"

He seemed to think about it for a moment, then nodded against her very carefully. Leaning on her was nice, but the hardwood floors weren't anywhere near as good as the couch for lying on. He really wanted to take advantage of the upholstery while he could before being chained back in the bathtub for the night. The cold, cast iron tub made a rotten bed. One of the very few things Spike missed about staying with Harmony was the abundance of frilly pillows she always had around. Her place was nauseatingly girly, but staying there in her pink, lacy bed beat the hell out of trying to sleep on a stone slab when he was sore. Or in a tub. Especially when his head was throbbing and it felt like it might explode at any moment.

"Thanks, poppet."

She smiled. If nothing else, he'd been much more polite to her and Willow over the past day or two, and she wanted to encourage that. "You're welcome." She put the ice aside and he made an almost inaudible sound of protest. "Just need my hands free," she reassured him. "I'll give it back once we're set on the couch."

He nodded against her. "Alright, luv." His voice was horribly rough again.

Spike shifted around, moving so that he could actually support his own weight with his hands. As he moved, Sam couldn't help noticing that his arms lacked their usual rock-steadiness. He wavered very slightly as he pushed himself into a sitting position and she gave him a gentle push on his back, helping to nudge him upright. He sort of grunted in surprise, then turned to look back at her and smiled. Once he sat up, though, he didn't make a move to stand. He seemed to be having a hard enough time trying to hold himself upright. He let his head hang down, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. Getting up from the floor wasn't something Spike was ready to do on his own. Not just yet.

Great. Sam glanced up at the people standing around, looking for someone who'd actually help to get the vampire on his feet again. Xander was out. He was standing in the kitchen, holding some ice to his split lip and intermittently using his tongue to play with a tooth Spike's punch had loosened. Buffy was out too, so was Giles. They'd been significantly less than friendly.

Willow might not be strong enough, so that just leaves. . . "Oz? Give him a hand up?"

The guitarist nodded. "Sure. Uhh, Spike?"

The vampire looked over at the werewolf curiously. He didn't say anything, but his silence prompted Oz to continue. "Just gimme your hands, bro."

Spike stared at him for another minute, not saying anything, but before too long he caught Willow's eye over Oz's shoulder. She was standing just behind and to one side of Oz, and as soon as she saw that she had Spike's attention, she nodded enthusiastically.

Spike rolled his eyes a bit, then made an annoyed sound. "Alright, Red."

Oz stuck his hands out and Spike grabbed hold, not fighting when the smaller man helped him to his feet but looking daggers at him all the same.

As Willow watched them, she noticed that both Oz and Spike had their fingernails painted black. The polish was more chipped on Spike's nails.

He'll have to re-paint them. Weird, I never pictured Spike doing that, painting his nails. Kinda funny, really. Another thing that makes him less scary. Probably shouldn't mention it to him, though. Doubt he'd be happy to hear something like that.

It was just a couple steps to the couch, so once Spike was standing, Oz let go of his hands. The vampire nodded at him, then seemed to ignore Oz as he traveled the few feet to sit on the couch. He saw Sam stand up out of the corner of his eye and was annoyed when he felt her eyes on him. Willow and Oz were hovering nearby, too, also watching him closely.

Bloody hell, people, I can do this on my own!

Spike didn't like needing help, especially with something as simple as standing up, and he sure as hell wasn't going to ask for any more help than that. He was the Big Bad, after all. Fact was, though, that he did need help. He knew it, too, just. . . admitting it to himself was one thing. Broadcasting it to everyone was a different sort and level of shame. These people – children, really. He was three times older than the oldest one of them – they had been his enemies for two years. Accepting help from them seriously stung what little pride he had left. This wasn't as bad as when he'd been stuck in the wheelchair, though, was it? And he'd survived that. Well, then he hadn't been able to walk so he couldn't go hunting with Drusilla when she and Angelus went out for a bite. Dru had rolled him around the abandoned factory like a little girl pushing her favorite dolly in a pram, which had been irritating beyond belief, but it was tolerable. She was his dark princess, after all, so he didn't mind it so very much. But then Angelus started moving in. On Dru. And she liked it, too. Even worse, Spike had to watch it happening, knowing he couldn't stop it.

He'd never been able to take on Angelus in a fight, even when his spine wasn't fractured in several places. Angelus was Dru's sire, so she owed him obedience. Spike was similarly subservient to Dru, but his loyalty to her came from love, not some vague tradition of vampire hierarchy. In over a century, even when they were separated for a few decades, he was never unfaithful. Couldn't say the same for Dru. It wasn't like she only slept with Angelus. Just fourteen years after he was sired, he found her and Darla in Rome, shacked up with the Immortal. Still, things were alright until they got to Sunnydale and he was stuck in the wheelchair. Angelus had graciously offered to assume 'any responsibility while you're spinning your wheels. Anything I'm not already doing, that is.' In other words, Angelus wanted to make sure Dru wasn't bored. Then when they were in South America she started sleeping with a Chaos demon. Six foot tall bastard, not counting the three foot tall antlers dripping with slime. . .

Anyway, so Angelus knew just how to tweak Spike. That was not a fun time, being in that wheelchair. Sure, he'd had Dru, but she was two timing him with Angelus. She let the big poof fondle her while he could only sit there and glare. Not much of a comfort, that. So was this really worse?

He'd expected a hostile reception here anyway. But being chained in a tub with the Slayer taunting him with her blood — that he hadn't counted on. Same thing with the incessant impotence jokes. Being wholly at the mercy of the Slayer and her stupid little friends wasn't his idea of a good time. Still, not everyone here was set against him. Willow seemed to be looking out for him. Oz, the guitarist. . . he was a hard one to figure out, but since he was Willow's boyfriend Spike supposed that he counted as an ally. The fact that he was a werewolf but was accepted and trusted by the group intrigued Spike. And then there was Sam. She was most definitely on his side.

Spike lowered himself onto the couch carefully, knowing that any kind of jostling movement would only cause him further pain. He closed his eyes, letting himself sink into the cushions and be supported by them. The lights were turned down to a soft glow but their brightness was still enough to make him feel like he'd been stabbed in the eye. He still knew when Sam came over, even though he didn't bother to open his eyes. He could hear her walking, knew her smell as it became stronger with her approach. She smelled like tea and, beneath that, the soft, rich, tangy scent that was uniquely her.

She sat down next to him on the couch and a moment later the icy cloth was being held to his forehead. The pounding abated a little at the cool touch and he smiled a tiny bit, making a muted, pleased sound. Her other hand reached out for his and their fingers interlaced. They sat that way for about a minute, then he felt the cushion shift oddly and opened his eyes. Sam had moved closer to him, but she was frowning.

He had let his head tilt back to rest on the cushions, but now he angled his face at her curiously. "What's wrong, poppet?"

She fiddled with the cloth a little and her eyes jerked over to meet his, then she dropped her gaze to look at their hands, suddenly seeming shy. "Well," she squeezed the cloth gently, gauging the diminished size of the ice cubes. "The ice has mostly melted. Would you like a new icepack?"

Spike frowned. "No. I'm alright, poppet."

Getting a new icepack would mean Sam getting up and not sitting with him, not petting him. He really didn't want her to go anywhere.

She shook her head, running the cloth back over his hair even as her eyebrows met in a worried frown.

Spike breathed out very quietly, almost sighing. Her touch was just so damn soothing. He let his eyes close partway, turning so one of his cheeks pressed into the couch cushion and he was facing her. He wouldn't close his eyes completely, though, because if he did that he wouldn't be able to watch her fussing over him.

I haven't felt this good since. . . I'm not sure when. Ages ago, though.

"You sure? New cubes would help with the pain until the aspirin starts working."

Spike let his eyes close completely, smiled and opened them again. "This is helping, pet. I feel better." He leaned closer so their shoulders were touching and squeezed her hand. "Just stop fussing about it."

Sam playfully narrowed her eyes at him. "That's not likely to happen. It wouldn't take a minute, and I'd be right back."

Spike closed his eyes, tensing his jaw defensively. "I don't mind you getting up, luv. I just. . . you don't need to."

Buffy listened, oddly fascinated. She'd never seen this side of Spike before, and she was more than a little impressed by the way that Sam was handling him. She still thought the idea of anyone being with Spike – in any sense of the word – was at least five different kinds of weird and wrong, not to mention stupid and dangerous, but it was sort of fun listening to him being manipulated.

"I may not need to," Sam kissed his hand, "but I think it'll help." She smiled, setting his hand down and tenderly stroking his cheek. Spike melted into the touch, making a soft sound of contentment. "Silly. Don't you want me to help?"

Spike shook his head, frowning in confusion. Moving his head even a little made it pound, and since the cool cloth on his brow had started getting warm, it wasn't helping anymore.

Bugger. It hurts, but now I have to admit she was right.

He looked up at her from under his dark eyebrows, pursing his lips in a show of embarrassment. "Pet? I, umm, think the ice has melted."

Sam bit her lip, holding the incipient 'I told you so' hostage. "D'you want new ice?" She felt that the question was sufficiently restrained.

Spike narrowed his eyes at her. "Fine, poppet." He made a big deal of seeming annoyed, but the fact that she was so ready and willing to help him feel better satisfied him on a level he didn't know he had.

Sam smiled at him, trying not to be smug, and ran her hand up from his cheek to play with his hair, gently combing through it with her fingers. Spike's eyes closed slowly and his annoyed scowl faded away.

"Then I'll go get you some." She let her hand come to rest on the nape of his neck. Sam debated pulling him closer for a kiss, but decided that might not go over well with everyone else in the apartment. Besides, she'd never kissed him in front of the group and she wasn't sure now was the time to do it, so instead she tickled him until his mouth twitched into a smile.

He glared at her playfully. "Hey, that's cheating."

Sam got up, slowly trailing her hand away from him. "There are rules for this?"

Spike looked thoughtful, twisting slightly so he could keep watching her as she walked towards the kitchen. "Not that you'd obey them if there were rules."

Sam turned, walking backwards for a few steps and flashing him a grin. Spike untwisted himself once she reached the small kitchen. He faced the empty living room and got comfortable on the couch again.

This is so much better than being in the bloody tub!

He shifted position slightly, rolling his neck to work out a kink before closing his eyes and smirking. Actually, the living room wasn't so empty. Willow and Oz had settled in their oversized chair again, next to the couch and near where Spike was sitting, and they were talking softly.

Free entertainment. Tonight on 'Life on the Hell mouth', a young witch and a werewolf try to make their relationship work. 'Montel' meets 'Passions'. Bloody good telly.

Spike watched curiously as the wiry guitarist took Willow's hand and brought it up to his face. He looked up at her for a second and then shifted his entire focus to kissing her fingers, her knuckles, her fingertips, and the fleshy part of her palm. Willow squirmed a little at first, but then she closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder. Oz kept murmuring to her between kisses and Willow would occasionally respond to a word or a phrase.

In the kitchen, Xander watched as Sam opened the freezer. "Why are you helping him? I mean, it's Spike we're talking about here. Spike. Evil undead guy, can't be trusted and you're just-"

Sam shook her head, puffing out a frustrated breath as she got out the ice cubes. "I'm what, Lexi?" She closed the freezer door and threw him a glare.

Xander stepped closer to her, swallowing nervously and glancing over at where Spike was sitting. The vampire could hear everything they were saying, and much as Xander wanted him to overhear some scorching comments later on, just then he didn't need an audience. Mainly because he tended to lose arguments with Sam. Usually they were about unimportant stuff, but this was different. He couldn't understand what Sam could possibly be thinking. She was mooning over a demon who had brained him with a microscope and kidnapped him last year. And Spike was evil and kept trying to kill Buffy and he'd tortured Angel – actually, that goes in the 'pro' column instead of the 'con' – and there were other good reasons he'd come up with, but instead he blurted out "why are you helping him?"

She narrowed her eyes at him slightly and looked ready to argue, but she just turned to face the counter and started carefully wrapping cloth around the ice. He didn't think she was going to answer, so he jumped a little when she said "because I can, Lexi. Because I want to."

He raised his eyebrows and blinked at her for a while. "But, but why? He's Spike. We hate Spike!" Xander fumbled with the ice he'd been holding to his split lip, trying to get a hold on it so he could gesture emphatically and moving so she'd have to look at him. "Just look what he did to me!" He jutted out his chin, pointing at his injured lip.

Sam finished with the ice and looked up. "And that was after you were taunting him for a while. Not a very convincing argument, Lex." She frowned at his ice and opened the freezer again, this time taking out a bag of frozen vegetables. "Your ice is melty. Use this."

Xander deflated slightly at the fussing and let her put the frozen veggies in his hand. "I get it, alright, or at least part of it. You want to help. But. . .him? Wh-"

She guided his hand up to press gently on the lip, effectively shushing him. "Your lip isn't bad, and you can always tell the guys at your construction job that you got it doing. . . I don't know, something impressive. As for the other part. . ." she stepped back from him, reclaiming her new icepack from the counter and smiling slightly. "I don't have to explain myself to you. Perk of being the older cousin. I get to be the one to dispense wisdom."

Giles came over from pouring himself some tea. "Are you sure that what you're doing is wise?" He blew on the steaming liquid and took a sip, a corner of his mouth twitching when he realized that he'd forgotten sugar. "After all," he put the cup and saucer down, dropped in a sugar cube. "Spike is. . ." Giles took off his glasses, avoiding looking at her. "He's not exactly –"

"A big fluffy puppy with bad teeth just because you want him to be one." Buffy was leaning back against the hallway wall with her arms crossed. She shrugged, pushing herself off of the wall. "I thought we'd have this conversation eventually, might as well get it over with now."

"Et tu, Buffy?" Sam seemed more amused than betrayed. "I get that this is your town, but I'm really not ready to listen to a lecture on dating ethics from Angelus' ex."

Buffy's green eyes went wide. She shook her head so her earrings swung and her blond hair bounced on her shoulders. If Buffy's indignation wasn't so serious and if she didn't have super powers, Sam would have laughed at the sight.

"Excuse me? You don't get to talk about Angel. You don't know the first thing about –"

Sam rolled her eyes. "I don't need to know. I'm not getting into specifics here, I'm just saying you've dated people who weren't exactly human, and you're not the only one in the room. Angel didn't want to hurt you, or anyone, but shit happened and Ms. Calendar ended up dead, along with who knows how many others. Xander here, so dutifully playing my conscience, is bedding an ex vengeance demon, and, sorry Willow, but Oz goes Jack London three nights a month. So how is my behavior out of line?"

Giles glanced around at the stunned faces and relinquished his tea again. He'd had a chance to drink some of it once Buffy interrupted him, so he didn't mind putting it aside. He looked at Sam earnestly, putting a fatherly hand on her shoulder. Sam looked up at him expectantly, waiting for him to weigh in. He was her adopted British uncle, and, much as she teased him, she did care about his opinion. Also, in terms of the whole 'let he who is blameless cast the first stone' argument, while Giles had messed with dark forces in his youth, he hadn't dated any non-humans, so she was more willing to listen to him.

"We only want you to be careful. Spike may not be able to harm you physically, and I for one doubt that he would wish to, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep your wits about you." Giles looked out into the living room at the white blond head. As far as he could tell, Spike had his eyes closed and was oblivious to their conversation, but he knew that the vampire could hear them, even if he wasn't listening.

"Just because he can't harm you doesn't mean that he can't hurt you."

Sam nodded, looking serious. "Yeah, I know. Still," she glanced at Spike too, then flashed Giles a smirk. "Think I'll take my chances."

She headed back into the living room and settled on the couch next to Spike. He automatically – instinctively, almost – put his arm around her. Sam cozied up to him, holding the ice to his forehead and letting herself admire his physique. He was certainly fit and she was glad that his face had lost the hollowed, sunken look he'd had when she'd first met him. The improvement was mainly due to the blood she'd started bringing to him when Giles wasn't looking. After a while Giles had found out, but by then she'd gotten Spike to tell her valuable info about the Initiative, so Giles didn't seem too annoyed at her. Now she leaned against Spike's arm, feeling it when he flexed his muscles, tightening his hold on her.

She shook her head, pleased and strangely touched by the show of possessiveness. "Miss me?"

Spike smiled wolfishly. "Mainly my head did." He raised his eyebrows, trying to wiggle them sarcastically, but doing it only made him wince. He hadn't meant it to, but that served to underline his comment.

"Mmhmm." Sam nodded, once again petting him with the ice and enjoying how he instantly relaxed, closing his eyes. "And did you enjoy the conversation?"

He opened his eyes slightly, smirking. "It wasn't 'As The World Turns', but it was amusing enough. Must say, though, I liked how the leading lady handled herself."

"Did you, now?" Sam was smirking too, but it grew into a grin when she caught sight of Xander pretending to vomit. "Speaking of entertainment, want to finish the movie?"

Spike seemed indifferent. "Didn't really care for it so far, but I'll watch if you want to see the rest. Bloody Anne Rice and her ideas about vamps. Like she ever actually met one of us."

Sam chuckled. "It's called fiction for a reason. But I promise, the ending is brilliant." She noticed that her hand had drifted over to rest on his knee.

Well, that can be useful. She squeezed him a little, trying to coax. "Please?"

He shook his head a tiny bit, sighing. "Alright, pet. But only if Harris keeps his trap shut. I've got enough of a bleedin' headache without him adding to it."

Sam smiled. "Thank you." She pressed a soft kiss to his temple, prompting another, different sort of sigh from Spike.


Sam ran her fingers back over his scalp, letting them drift down to play with the wispy hair at the nape of his neck. "Mmm? What is it?"

Spike glanced over at the kitchen, narrowing his eyes when he saw Harris standing near Buffy, talking. He listened in, letting his vamp hearing work for him.

"What is she thinking? It's not like he could really love her or anything. He's a cold-blooded killer, and she's always been a romantic. I mean, she loves poetry! What could she see in him?"

"I know, Xand, but Spike can't hurt her. I mean, he might break her heart, he could, but," Buffy glanced over at the couch and jerked a little when she saw Spike staring back at her. She shook her head, turning around to face away from the living room. "Look, I can't stand him either, but I heard them talking earlier. He really seems to care about her, not that I know how much he could care, him not having a soul, but he listens to her. Remember two years ago, when my old friend and his vamp-worshipping buddies showed up? The only reason me and all those other people got out of that bunker alive was because I grabbed Drusilla and threatened to stake her. As soon as he saw that I had her, he looked scared. He backed down right away and ordered all his guys to let those people go, just to make sure I wouldn't hurt his lover."

Xander shook his head. "That doesn't mean he knows right from wrong, Buff. It just means he's whipped."

Buffy half stifled a laugh. "Yeah, and you'd know about that. How are things with Anya?" Spike smirked at that. Maybe this girl's not so bad after all. Gives idiot boy a hard time.

She made a vague gesture with one hand, hardly believing that she was actually arguing for Spike. She did hate him, after all, and didn't trust him even an eensey bit, but she'd seen something in him, in the way he acted towards Sam, that was making it hard for her to agree with Xander. "I'm not saying I trust him or anything, but he will go to extremes to protect the girl he's with and to do things for her."

"Am I to understand that you're trying to present the fact that he re-assembled the Judge as a present for Drusilla as proof that he can be a good boyfriend? That isn't exactly the same as going Christmas shopping."

Xander nodded, pointing at Giles. "What he said! He's evil, and I don't want him near my cousin."

Spike closed his eyes again, resting his head against Sam's. His headache had mostly backed off, but he wasn't free of it just yet. Still, sitting on the couch with Sam seemed to be helping him feel better, even if it wasn't doing much for his head. "Are you really related to that wanker?" His voice was low – soft, almost – and deep, as he asked the question.

A *ding* from the kitchen microwave announced the arrival of more popcorn. Sam looked over, smiling as Xander fumbled his hands into potholders before reaching for the popcorn bag. He did a funny sort of dance, trying to get the bag open with his hands still in the potholders, until Buffy laughed, taking the bag from him and opening it. Giles held out a fresh bowl and Buffy poured the new popcorn into it while Xander stood by, flapping his hands in the potholders.

Sam chuckled, shaking her head. She put the cloth on his brow again, smiling at his soft noise of content. "Yep. It's hard to believe sometimes, but we do have some things in common."

Spike glanced over at her, instantly suspicious, and sat back to better look at her. His dark eyes scrutinized her, looking for traces of Harris in her face, her eyes, but he found none. "Such as?"

She settled closer to him, closing the slight distance between them on the couch and kissing him again, on the cheek this time. She didn't like the searching look he was giving her, and didn't like that he'd stopped resting against her, cuddling her. She hoped that a kiss and a few words might help restore the romantic mood. "Bad jokes, incessant movie and tv references. General geekery."

Spike tilted his head and smiled, relaxing against her again and returning the kiss. "Not so bad. At least you're not a fool, or a coward."

"I can be pretty silly and annoying, even borderline stupid. Just ask my roommate."

"Still," Spike shifted his arm slightly, letting his fingers grip her shoulder for a moment before making his hold more gentle, "you aren't at all like –"

Xander came over from the kitchen, popcorn bowl in hand, and sat down between Sam and Spike, even though there really wasn't any 'between' to speak of. "Hey guys. Mind if I squeeze in here? Thanks."

They moved apart reflexively, but only so he wouldn't sit on them.

Spike narrowed his eyes at the intruder, growling, "Harris, get your own bloody seat!"

"I did, buddy. Right here between you guys." He gave Sam a deceptively innocent look. "What, is that a problem?"

She rolled her eyes. "You know it is. Go back to the seat you had before, Lexi."

He stammered stupidly, the innocent expression starting to slip. "But, I . . . just wanted to change seats –"

Sam glared at him, annoyed by his clumsy attempt at subterfuge, and more annoyed that he seemed to think that she'd believe such a bald lie. It really pissed her off when peope underestimated her intelligence, and he knew that."I know what you're tryin' to do, and I'm tellin' you to stoppit". Her voice changed sightly, becoming deceptively calm and even. "Get up now and I won't have to hurt you."

Xander blinked, seeming to think about it for a good minute, before he deflated and stood up. "Fine," his tone said he thought that her siding with Spike was actually the polar opposite of fine, but he still slunk away to his previous seat, sulkily flopping down into an easychair across from where Willow and Oz were cuddling. Some bits of popcorn flew out of the bowl and onto the floor because of his dramatics. Almost instantly, Giles' voice rang out from the kitchen.

"I'd thank you to not make too much of a mess. If it's at all possible, I'd rather not have my home come to resemble your basement."

Buffy came over to the couch, reclaiming her seat next to Sam. As soon as Xander got up, Sam and Spike had moved back together, leaving room for the blonde on Sam's other side. "Don't worry about it, Giles," Buffy called back towards the kitchen. "We'll clean it up." She turned to Xander, speaking with particular emphasis. "Won't we?"

He hunched his shoulders, mumbling, "yeah, we will," and sullenly shoving a handful of popcorn into his mouth. What did I do?

Spike sighed, leaning the side of his head against Sam. "Are we watching this movie or not?" He still wasn't too keen on watching it, but Sam had promised that it got better, so he was willing to give it another shot. He shifted a little, trying to get comfy again. Sam helped by reaching up and running a hand through his hair, rubbing her fingers in little soothing circles over his scalp. He smiled almost against his will, closing his eyes and angling his head towards her to better appreciate her touch. How does she make me feel so good? Under her attentions, the headache from his chip attacks began to fade even more.

Buffy leaned across the couch arm, snagging a handful of popcorn from the bowl and then cradling the puffs to her chest as she settled into the couch. "Yeah, Xand. I've gotta patrol in –" she checked her watch, then the windows to gauge how much daylight was left. "Forty minutes."

Xander hit 'play', and Antonio Banderas' voice wafted into the room.

"Do you know how few vampires have the stamina for immortality? How quickly they perish of their own will? The world changes. We do not. Therein lies the irony that finally kills us. I need you to make contact with this age. . ."

Nothing much happened in the living room until Claudia brought home Madeline, her new 'mother'. Spike tensed at the idea of a child vampire wishing for an immortal mother, but then he rolled his eyes, annoyed and somewhat disgusted by Louis' – and the movie's – sentimentality. He understood Claudia's desire, but didn't let on. What irritated him was Louis' morality. It reminded him so much of Angel, he couldn't help, and didn't really want to help, feeling some satisfaction when Louis was walled up by the cadre. For a second, Spike imagined it was Angel, not Louis, in the coffin, and he couldn't hold back a chuckle.

Buffy gave him a what could you possibly find amusing about this? look. "What's so funny, Spike?"

He glanced at her sidelong, amusement making his eyes dance, and he didn't bother trying to keep the laughter out of his voice. "Never you mind, Slayer. Just glad the philosophizing is over for now."

She just rolled her eyes, and he went back to focusing on the movie. When he realized what would happen to Claudia and Madeline, he turned his face away for a moment, but when the two of them started to burn, he glanced back and couldn't look away. He let out a sympathetic hiss upon seeing the charred bodies, understanding some of Louis' pain, and surprising himself by not being indifferent to it. Spike understood Louis' protectiveness of Claudia, and, for a moment, he was actually jealous of her, despite the whole being burnt to a cinder thing. After all, her sire loved her and was devoted to her, and seeing his grief made Spike wish that he'd had a sire who had been as faithful to him, as protective. A sire who would've been more of a teacher than Drusilla ever was. She had left him to his own devices, mainly, knowing that he'd try to impress her, but not giving him much in the way of guidance as to how to impress her, supposing that he'd know instinctually. She'd been his lover, his love, for over a century, and he'd spent a good deal of that time taking care of her, instead of vice versa. He hadn't minded, exactly, since he did love Dru, and since taking care of her meant that he got to be the dominant male, but he'd always wanted something. . . else from her. Something he'd never been able to have.

Now he tightened his arm around Sam, momentarily nuzzling at her ear. She smiled at the touch, and her hand snaked up to play through his hair. Her fingers massaged the side of his head, breaking up the gelled curls near his temple, and he let his eyes drop shut, mumbling contentedly ". . . feels good, pet." She wasn't a replacement for Drusilla, not by any means. His need for her was different.

He was shaken out of his thoughts when Xander exclaimed, almost yelping upon seeing Lestat, "Christ! Spike, is that what happens if a vamp doesn't feed?"

One corner of Spike's mouth turned up in a satisfied smirk. Guess Anne Rice isn't getting it all wrong. "Yeah. Not too pretty, is it? 's a shame he ended up like that, really. I thought Lestat'd do better. 'Course, what else can you expect from a story written by a human?"

Xander and Sam shared a smirk. "Don't know why you're so surprised by Lestat, Lex. We've both seen the movie before."

He shrugged, carefully trying to force the smirk away from his face. He remembered the end, how unequivocally awesome it was, and wondered if it meant anything that he always found it so satisfying and funny. After all, he had a pretty good feeling that Spike would have a similar reaction to the finale. The idea troubled him, that he and a bloodthirsty, unrepentant killer might grin and even laugh at the same things. What did that say about him? Did it mean anything? Xander didn't want to think about it too much. He was afraid of the answer he might find, but his thoughts kept circling back to the same question.

No. He told himself firmly. It doesn't mean a thing. It's just a movie. He kept telling himself that, he just wasn't sure that it was the truth.

As Christian Slater ran out of the hotel room and the drums started beating, Sam glanced over at Spike. There was the ghost of a smile near his lips, and after she'd been looking at him for a while, his eyes flicked over to her. "Something fun's about to happen, isn't it, pet?"

She grinned in anticipation, nodding against his shoulder as she turned her focus back to the tv. "Just watch."

His brow furrowed, but he followed suit, watching as the red convertible screamed out of it's parking space and found it's way onto the Golden Gate Bridge. Spike heard everyone's pulse rate suddenly jump, and he could smell their excitement, especially that of the women sitting either side of him on the couch. He realized that most, if not all, of them had seen the movie before, and he was more than a little curious about what could elicit such a reaction from a group of goody-goodies like the Scoobies. Even Giles had drifted into the room at some point, and was hovering at the edge of the carpet. He'd seemed uninterested in the movie, and it seemed unlikely that he'd watched it before, but now his curiosity appeared to have gotten the better of him.

The interviewer fumbled a tape into the tapedeck, and Louis's story began to play. "Seventeen ninety one was the year it happened. I was twenty four, younger than you are now, but times were different then; I was a man at that age, the master of a large plantation just south of New Orleans. I had lost my wife in childbirth. . ."

"Somebody change my shorts."

Spike licked his lips, almost able to taste the anticipation in the room. It was more than just suspense, though. A soft, dry hint of fear was coming from Giles, but the rest of the group was giving off a hint of something else. He'd smelled it on Drusilla and Angelus when they used to hunt, and once on Buffy, when she was on patrol and spoiling for a fight. Now it was faint, but there. A feral, hormonal tang. He'd never expected to smell that from them, especially not from Willow.

"She and the infant had been buried for less than a half year-"

"It's good stuff."

"- I would have been happy to join them."

"Good stuff."

It amused him when Sam jumped a little in her seat, as did the others, when the interviewer was roughly grabbed away from the wheel, even though they seemed to have expected it. Spike recognized the ratty lace cuff on the assailant's sleeve, and the corpse-like hand which suddenly clutched the interviewer's throat, and he felt a satisfied grin stretching over his face when a few notes from a harpsichord heralded the new arrival.

"I assume I need no introduction." And, truly, he didn't.

A quick glance around the room told him that the rest of the group was similarly gratified to see Lestat again, but he only let his eyes dart away from the screen for a fraction of a second. It had taken long enough, and they were only minutes from the end, now, but he was utterly hooked.

Lestat latched onto the man's throat, disregarding how, without a driver, the car swerved into a guardrail, throwing up sparks as the two metal surfaces scraped along each other. Spike unconsciously licked his lips, trying – and failing – to remember the last time he'd fed on a human. He liked Lestat as a character, but dammit if he wasn't jealous of the ficticious vampire just then! The sight of Lestat feeding, and in such a reckless and exciting way, made him terribly hungry. His fangs itched to descend and tear into a warm, pulsating throat, but he knew it couldn't happen, not with the chip. He'd have to content himself with pig's blood from the Watcher's fridge after the movie.

"I feel better already."

Sam grinned up at Spike, but her expression faltered when she saw how wistful his eyes were. Is he thinking of past kills? she couldn't help wondering, more than slightly worried by the thought. He blinked, and a second later his eyes were sparkling again. "Good ending," he muttered to her hair.

Her smile grew again, and she cuddled closer to him, trying to quash her sudden worries. "Gets better."

"Most of all, I longed for death. I invited it. A release from the pain of living."

The harpsichord began playing again as Lestat took the wheel, and Spike watched, amused, as the vamp fussily plucked at his lace cuff, pulling it out from the sleeve it had been tucked into. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Sam miming the same actions, and he smiled. Guess she really has seen this movie a few times.

The smile remained when Sam and Xander recited the next lines along with Lestat. "Oh Louis, Louis. Still whining. Have you heard enough? I've had to listen to that for centuries." He switched off the tape and the radio came on, just percussion at first, but when Spike recognized the song, he let his head fall back against the couch, laughing. With his head like that, he could see Giles, and was surprised to find that the Watcher had a similar look of recognition on his face, and the man was grinning at the song. Giles whispered to himself "bloody marvelous," utterly shocking Spike, before Giles noticed that he was being watched.

Giles quickly tried to smooth out his expression, taking off his glasses and cleaning them furiously on a dishtowel as he did so.

Spike winked at him cheekily. "No shame in it, Rupert. 'S just a movie, after all."

Sam had started patting his thigh urgently, so he raised his head, leaving Giles to his polishing. When Spike looked at her curiously, she gestured to the tv emphatically, seeming exactly like a very small, excited child. "Not done yet."

"Don't be afraid." Lestat reached out, making as if to cup the interviewer's chin in his hand, in an almost tender, paternal gesture, before turning his focus back to the road. "I'm going to give you the choice I never had. . ." He looked utterly pleased with himself as his voice trailed off, the words turning into smug silence, then jubilant laughter after he cranked up the radio and favored his victim with a grin.

Oz was humming along and playing air guitar, Sam was moving her shoulders in a way suggestive of dancing, and both she and Xander were softly singing the lyrics along with Axel Rose.

"Please allow me to introduce myself,
I'm a man of wealth and taste.

Been around for a long, long year

Stolen many a man's soul and faith.
I was there when Jesus Christ
had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure the Pilate

washed his hands, and sealed his fate.
Pleased to meet you,
hope you guess my name.
But what's puzzling you

is the nature of my game.
I stuck around St. Petersburg

when I saw it was time for a change
Killed the tsar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain."

Everyone was enjoying the song, and Spike was a little embarrassed to find himself singing along. He pulled up short, but Sam smiled at him, encouraging him to continue, so he did, albeit shyly. Sam snuggled closer to his side, singing to his chest. His arm was still around her, his hand resting on her upper arm, and he was drumming his fingers in time to the song.

"Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints, as heads is tails just call me Lucifer, 'cause I'm in need of some restraint. So if you meet me, have some courtesy, have some sympathy, have some taste. Use all your well-learned politeness, or I'll lay your soul to waste."