Chapter 2: The Strength of All

"Bloody hell!" Spike said disgustedly. "Well, that's just bleeding perfect, isn't it? THIS is your brother-in-law?"

"'Fraid so," his blue-skinned friend replied; "Why? You know him?"

They'd tracked Wally's errant relative fairly easily - he'd left quite a trail - and after checking his usual haunts found him in the alley outside Willy's lying face down - or snout down, Spike supposed - in a refuse heap. He eyed the bulky, gray-skinned figure with loathing.

"Oh, yeah, mate, I know 'im all right."

"Can we take him back to your place?" Wally sounded anxious. "Tell you the truth, I didn't think he'd be this bad off."

Spike sighed. Vinnie Teeth was clearly completely pissed and, though his flat black eyes were open, out cold; he looked like he weighed a ton, too. His dorsal fin shuddered as he snored loudly into the garbage.

"Guess we might as well, if we can even get him up," Spike said pessimistically. He'd seen a lot of drunks in his time, and this didn't look promising. He took hold of the up-jutting fin and shook it with some force. "Oi! Vinnie! Wakey, wakey!"

"I think the car's this way," Wally said, staggering under the burden of Vinnie's arm slung inertly around his neck. Just as Spike predicted, the loan shark was a dead weight, unable to walk on his own and adding his mite to their progress every now and then by half-waking, flailing around, howling incoherently, and then collapsing again. Their passage through the streets of the less attractive side of Sunnydale was laborious and exasperating.

They were staggering diagonally across the street running in back of the Fish Tank when Spike saw probably the last person on earth he wanted to meet up with at the moment. Right, make that the last three people. For some incomprehensible reason, probably having to do with fate and retribution, Buffy, Dawn, and Anya were walking down the street together, high heels clicking, all elegant and ladylike. At one o'clock in the morning. In this part of town. He was searching frantically for an alley to duck into when she spotted him. Might as well make the best of it, then.

"'Evening, Slayer," he greeted her innocently. "Ladies. Looking lovely tonight."

"Spike!" Balls. She sounded het-up already. "Isn't that -- ? What did you do to him?"

"Who?" Spike said. Yeah, that should work. He looked around and seemed to discover Vinnie's arm draped around his neck for the first time. "Oh, him. Picked 'im up out of an alley."

She folded her arms across her chest, her lips set in a thin line, her hazel eyes glowing with righteous wrath. Even when extremely (though unjustly) vexed, he thought, she was so beautiful, in a soft, invitingly low-cut sort of top and leather mini-skirt. Her silky hair shone under the streetlight. He wondered if she was dressed up for anyone in particular.

"I thought you'd changed, you know," she said tightly. "I thought you went away to get your head straight. But everything's just the same, isn't it? How much are you in for this time?"

"Buffy!" Dawn whispered, mortified; what was WRONG with her? "What are you doing?"

Spike seized on this timely distraction. "Hey, isn't it a school night, Niblet?" he said piously. Two could play at that game. "What are you doing up at this hour?"

"As a matter of fact, it's Friday," Anya responded in a reasonable tone. "But you're quite correct, we should be home by now. We went to the Bronze and had to help Buffy hunt some vampires. Some evil vampires, that is," she added politely. "They got away."

Spike actually heard Buffy grind her teeth at that last little tidbit. So that's why she was so cranky - slayage interruptus.

"Huh. Well, hope you catch 'em. Nice to see you," he said hastily, suddenly distracted by the imminent prospect of Vinnie tossing his cookies, or whatever it was he ate. "'Night, all."

He maneuvered Wally and their retching encumbrance on up the street as quickly as possible, leaving the three girls staring after them in amazement and not a little pique. They found a handy trashcan in an alley just in time.

"Boy, what a rude girl!" Wally exclaimed, standing well back. "Was that the Slayer?"

"She's a little high-strung," Spike said apologetically.

At least, Spike reflected, the night couldn't get any worse. After a grueling evening spent thanklessly toting heavy boxes (it hadn't actually been thanklessly, but never mind), he'd barely arrived home to his nice, comfy crypt, ready for some entertainment and a nice cuppa, when he was burdened with the domestic troubles of a new friend and an old enemy. Then Buffy had seen him in mid-rescue and gotten the totally wrong idea about it. Then they had finally reached Wally's car only to discover that the keys had been dropped somewhere along the way. He was now retracing their steps since finding Vinnie, using his vamp vision for a quick search.

The back streets were empty but for a few reeling drunks making their way homewards. He didn't expect to find many people up and about, so when he heard surreptitious voices and a groan, he pricked up his ears. The sounds were coming from an ill-lit, trash-strewn alley.

He saw two shadowy figures bending over something that looked like a body. Maybe these were the vampires Buffy had been hunting; he flattened himself against the wall for a moment and listened.

"Look, man, I found him, I get first bite."

"No way! I spotted him first!"

"Way! You lost track of him when the Slayer noticed us."

"Did not! I was being, you know, stealthy."

"Oh, yeah, right; it just LOOKED like running real fast - "

"Hey, you ran just as fast as I did! Faster!"

Spike rolled his eyes. What a pair of gits. Really, the quality of vampire turning up 'round the Hellmouth nowadays was disgraceful. Stretching his shoulders briefly to get the kinks out, he drew a sturdy stake from his pocket, vamped out, and bounded down the alley with a roar.

The two hapless vampires shrieked in sheer surprise - followed by terror when they saw who was after them.

"Oh, crap, it's Spike!"

"Hey, man, we didn't do anything to the guy, honest!"

"You know the rules, pillocks; I catch you in the act, I dust you," he growled, with contempt. "Don't make it worse by begging."

They didn't have much time to worry about its getting worse, though; he picked up the first one and tossed him headlong into the other's midriff, knocking them both down, and in a short flurry of kicks and blows stunned both enough to stake them easily.

Spike swaggered triumphantly over the pile of dust briefly - doing for your opponents was always satisfying, even if they were wankers - and tucked his stake away. He peered down at the victim. It was a hefty bloke in a corduroy jacket smelling strongly of booze, face down in the alleyway. He sighed. This seemed to be his night for saving imbeciles from the drunk tank.

"Oi!" he said. "Mate!"

There was an inarticulate mutter. Well, that was something; maybe he wouldn't end up carrying the big lummox. He bent down to shake the blighter's shoulder.

"Come on!" he said in a compelling voice. "Up you get. Time to go home, mate."

The intended victim suddenly thrashed, and rolled over on his back.

"Get off me, Evil Dead!" he bellowed in a slurred voice. Yes, indeed, it was Alexander Lavelle Harris, live and in person.

Well, Spike thought, that would teach him to imagine things couldn't get worse.

"Heav'n forming each on other to depend,
A master, or a servant, or a friend,
Bids each on other for assistance call,
'Till one man's weakness grows the strength of all.
Wants, frailties, passions, closer still ally
The common int'rest, or endear the tie.
To these we owe true friendship, love sincere,
Each home-felt joy that life inherits here..."

Alexander Pope

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