Chapter 5: Ask Not How

"Bloody hell," Spike said disgustedly. "Can he talk yet, love?"

Vinnie Teeth floundered awkwardly in Mrs. Caprescu's bathtub, uttering incoherent protests. They had finally roused him by the stern expedient of adding lemon juice to the water he floated in and, when that didn't work fast enough, tabasco sauce. Spike was well enough acquainted with the lady of the house to know -- never mind how -- that she had plenty more increasingly rigorous remedies up her sleeve if that didn't do the trick.

All of a sudden Vinnie sat up, coughing, in a swell of flavored water; Spike couldn't say if his button eyes were streaming with tears (or if he had tears) but his skin was certainly flushed an unusual shade of pinkish-gray.

"Well, well! Look who's back in the land of the living. You're a genius, love," he said.

"I live long time, I learn a few things," Mrs. C said, with a modest smile.

"Spike?" Vinnie said, his voice rougher than ever. "Listen, I don't want any trouble -- "

"Hey, you don't KNOW what kind of trouble you'd be in if it wasn't for him," Wally said hotly.

"Wally? Is that you?" Vinnie evidently couldn't see very clearly yet.

"You're damn right it's me," the mer-man said irately. "What do you think you're doing, Vinnie? Dot's just frantic."

Vinnie suddenly collapsed back into the tub, and somehow an expression of deep melancholy overtook his theoretically immobile features. "She's better off without me," he groaned. "She should just forget she ever knew me."

Spike didn't like the way this conversation was going; he was getting that constricted feeling in his chest again. Maybe getting Vinnie to look on the bright side would help.

"Look here, mate; Wally here came all the way from LA to find you for her, so why don't you let her decide? Have yourself a wash and brush up and you'll feel better about everything."

"That's rich! I'll never feel better about anything." Vinnie gave a bitter laugh. "What I'll feel is dead. I'm doomed. I'm sorta surprised they haven't gotten me yet -- but they will."

"Who? What have you been up to?"

"Hey, I was just going about my business, you know what I mean? I didn't mean to step on anybody's toes. How did I know who the big wheel was in this town? It seemed like easy pickings, present company excepted."

"What big wheel? Who'd you piss off, Vinnie?"

Vinnie looked at his brother-in-law almost furtively. "Don't you know? He should have told you. You gotta get out of here, Wally; if they see you helping me -- " He shot an accusing look at Spike. "You should have told him. They could be after him too now."

"I don't know what you're talking about, mate," Spike said in some exasperation. Sober Vinnie was not a big improvement on completely blotto Vinnie so far.

"You must know," Vinnie half whispered, leaning towards them. "It's The Doctor. The Doctor is after me. I might as well kill myself right now."

There was a sudden silence. Seconds ticked by. Shaken, Wally searched for something reassuring to tell Vinnie; Mrs. Caprescu crossed her arms, and shivered. The crowded little room filled with tension, and each face showed a degree of apprehension, even dread.

Except one.

"Who the hell is this bleeding Doctor, when he's at home?" Spike said, irked. "No one ever tells me a sodding thing."

"Well, I've heard some bad things -- " Wally said slowly, his face still shocked. "There's been big trouble here -- "

"I've heard things, too," Mrs. C said, with a disturbed expression. "The Doctor is one to stay away from."

"So who is the guy?" Spike could feel his face grow grim as a few incidents he'd tried hard to forget came to mind. "'Cause I've got a bone to pick with 'im myself, now that I think of it."

"Guy! You think it's a man?" Vinnie said, with a note of hysteria in his voice.

"Well, beastie, or woman, then," Spike said impatiently.

"A woman!" This was a half-shriek. Spike and Wally's eyes met. Looked like Vinnie was going off the deep end again. He put his hands -- or rather flippers -- to his head, his eyes vacant, and subsided once more, saying musingly, "Maybe it WAS a woman... once."

Okay, this was getting creepy; but it wasn't really progress, was it? Enough of the talk; it was time for some action.

"Look, mate," Spike said in an authoritative but soothing tone, "No one knows where you are, right? So you clear right out of town; Wally can tell you I've got connections in LA who can protect you from anything, and I mean anything." He patted Vinnie's dorsal. "Go on back to the missus with Wally here, and I'll look into it from this end. Because I really don't feature letting some demonic trull run my friends out of town on a whim." Fine -- so now Vinnie bloody Teeth was his friend, too. But he just couldn't seem to stop himself from saying these things. He was a damned friendly vampire nowadays.

"Dawn!" Buffy yelled, racing up the stairs. She found her sister curled up on the floor by the door of their mother's bedroom, sobbing in fear.

"Buffy, there's something in there," she wailed, "Where IT happened -- where I found her! Something moved! Buffy, what is it!"

"Oh, honey," Trembling with relief, Buffy fell to her knees, hugging her sister close, "No! It's not anything bad. Shhh, it's okay. It's just Xander."

Dawn pulled away in surprise.

"Xander!" she said. "Why's he here? Oh, Buffy, you two weren't -- "

"Oh, Dawnie, no!" Not to mention, eeew. Especially after comparing him with Spike just now -- better not think of that. "No -- he's just -- he's not feeling well."

"Buffy, what's going on?" Dawn said, her eyes serious. "Please. I heard Spike's voice and I just wanted to -- I know you want to protect me, but it's much worse being in the dark."

Buffy took her hand and held it. Of course it was worse.

"I know. I'm sorry. Look, honey, go back to your room and I'll come in and tell you everything, I promise." Dawn nodded, and scrambled to her feet.

After taking a few minutes to change out of her now incredibly uncomfortable outfit (which she supposed Spike hadn't even looked at) -- she actually gasped stepping out of her high-heeled shoes -- Buffy went to Dawn's room and sat on the foot of the bed.

"Xander's in trouble," she said bluntly. She'd promised not to sugarcoat -- so there it was.

"What's wrong?"

Buffy hesitated. It was so hard to say this right out.

"You know since the wedding, he's been -- well, a mess. And he's really been drinking a lot -- more than I realized."

"Like his dad," Dawn said austerely, with the clear-eyed self-righteousness of a teenager. Buffy remembered it well.

"I guess so." Though that was exactly what he always swore he would never do. Buffy wondered if he even knew how much like his father he seemed lately. It was weird and embarrassing, and sort of scary. She was really not looking forward to facing him when he woke up. "Anyway, tonight -- well, tonight Spike found him lying in the street, passed out, in a pretty bad part of town. That's why he called me. And we brought him back here. That's when you heard Spike's voice."

Dawn sat up at that.

"Spike helped Xander? Spike HATES Xander!"

"I know, but -- well, I guess he still didn't want to see any small-time vamps get him..." That did sound unconvincing; she'd been wondering too, but she couldn't come up with an explanation.

"He saved Xander from vampires? Buffy, what is up with him? He is acting so weird lately."

Buffy thought that probably qualified for the understatement of the century, but by now she felt too confused and, let's face it, emotional to come up with an answer.

"I don't know -- he doesn't really talk to me now; I told him to move on, and I guess he did. I suppose that's better for everyone... " She said miserably, her voice trailing off.

This time Dawn took her hand comfortingly.

"Buffy, I'm sure he still cares about us," she said.

"Right," Spike said, "You two scarper off to Angel's place of business -- they'll be expecting you. Then you tell 'em every bleeding thing you can think of about this Doctor, down to the last detail. They'll probably put you up for the duration, and the little woman, too. Very posh, by the way; you'll like it."

"We'll be okay, Vinnie, don't worry," Wally said. "They have a lot of experience with this sort of thing -- well, any sort of thing."

Wally and Vinnie were ready to leave. Vinnie wore the crumpled remains of a once-handsome custom-made suit (which, moreover, now had a distinct pinkish tinge), and looked very much the worse for wear himself, but he seemed to have regained his nerve.

"I sure hope you're right," Vinnie said, looking unconvinced. "Look -- I gotta say this -- thanks, Spike. You didn't have to do this for me."

"Don't mention it," Spike said, disconcerted. This was the worst bit about good deeds, if you asked him -- the gratitude. It made his flesh creep; he didn't know how Buffy and all those hero-types stood it. Fortunately, the moment passed. The two travelers thanked their hostess, like well brought up demons; then they shook hands (or flippers) with Spike, thumped shoulders all around, and were off to the safe haven of the Hyperion Hotel.

Sounding in their ears (if applicable) were Spike's confident final words, "Don't you worry -- we'll get this Doctor bird sorted."

It was three a.m. Far above the darkened streets of Sunnydale, with no one to see or hear it, a black helicopter whirred towards an unknown destination.

"I ASK not how thy suffering came,
Or if by sin, or if by shame,
Or if by Fate's capricious rulings:
To my large pity all's the same.

Come close and lean against a heart
Eaten by pain and stung by smart;
It is enough if thou hast suffered,
Brother or sister then thou art."

Anne Reeve Aldrich

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