I don't own them, please don't sue.
Buffy felt a slow, strong heartbeat against her cheek. She smelled leather and candle wax. There was a soft jingling of some kind of metal that kept time with the heartbeat and it took her a few a moments to realize she was being carried. A hot, blistering pain shot through her head and down her neck causing her to whimper.
“I have you,” said a soft, gentle voice “…you are safe.” She felt, more than heard, the whispered words rumbling through the chest she was cradled against. There was something she needed to remember, something she had to do, but her ears were filled with a roar that sounded like a train and it hurt to think so she let herself sink back down into the warm darkness.
A cramping in her stomach pulled her out of the painless dark into a world of colors and swirls. She was being carried; she remembered that… being able to remember something was somehow a good sign, reassuring. Though what it was a good sign of, she didn’t know or understand what it meant.
She felt the great strength in the arms that held her, and in the huge hand that cupped her head to keep it still. She could feel the calluses on his fingers as he gently pressed her cheek into the wall of his chest.
“You’re safe, be still,” his voice echoed against her ear. She must have moved because he gently tightened his hold on her. Buffy could feel the immense strength in the man who carried her and wondered if he wasn’t perhaps stronger than Angel, because the tension in his arms wasn’t from the strain of carrying her over a distance, it was from carefully measuring how much force it took to hold her. She knew this from her own experience, whenever she tried to hug one of her friends; she had to hold them as if they were spun glass. So much of her life was spent hiding her differences from the people she loved because if they knew that she could crush them with just one hand how long would it be before they started to fear her.
How was it she could remember her friends’ faces so clearly and couldn’t remember what had happened to her or where she was?
The cramping in her stomach grew worse and dragged her away from the thoughts of her friends.
“I need to put you down for a few moments,” he said distracting her. He stopped, and slowly, carefully, lowered her until she was laying on her side in the sandy soil. Her eyes still wouldn’t focus beyond colors and shadows. She rested her head against her arm and closed her eyes to keep from becoming dizzy. She felt the man move away from her more than she heard him and she wondered how he could be so big and so quiet.
Again her stomach cramped and she knew that it meant something very important. She needed to remember what…. Vampires! The evil undead! She was the Slayer and she needed to get up to fight them. Only when she pushed into a sitting position her head exploded at the same time a fiery lance stabbed her through the thigh.
Buffy woke to screams and roars and the smell of old stale blood and bright colored flashes of light that blinded her. She was laying face down in soft sand and she pushed up so she was on her hands and knees. Even that much of an effort left her sick and shaking. Her arms so weak they were threatening to collapse.
Despite the unbearable pain in her head and leg she had to get up! She had to fight! She was The Slayer
and couldn’t let the man helping her die without at least trying to defend him.
The roars stopped and all she could hear were the moans of the wounded. All she felt were the vampires, all she could smell was blood, was the man dead? Did she cause another innocent die?
The seconds ticked by, where was he? Was he dead? Taken and fed upon? She looked up blinking, wishing that her sight would clear so she could see what happened.
“You are safe,” the deep, wonderful voice, told her. And she nearly collapsed in relief. He survived. He hadn’t died because of her. Buffy heard him wiping his hands on something and then his gentle touch on her back caused her shaking arms to give out. He caught her before she could face plant into the ground and eased her over on her back. “I will keep you safe.” He promised her and Buffy so desperately wanted to believe him.
Her clumsy hand reached for the one stake she had left and she pulled it out. Buffy heard the moans, the man only wounded the vampires and they weren’t safe until they were dust. Once again, she tried to do her duty and once again, her body betrayed her.
He placed his huge hand on her arm. “Let me,” he took the stake from her and he shifted from her side. Buffy heard the unmistakable sound of vampires turning to dust and the cramping eased until it was gone.
“They are dead, how did you know what they were?” he asked her, when she felt him kneel by her.
“Its what I do, I fight their kind, I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” she said simply. Only the word slayer ended in groan as the pain in her head became worse. She wished her vision would straighten out so she could see him, gauge his reaction. When the silence stretched she babbled on despite the tiredness and pain she felt clouding her mind. “They have a great sense of smell, my blood probably drew them to us. You should leave me here and just call the police.”
“You said in the Park your were in danger. Is it the vampires you fear? That they could find you in a hospital?” the man asked quickly.
“Yes, to all of the above,” she was fighting and losing the urge to sleep.
“Well then, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while I cannot take you where I had originally planned, I still have a safe place where I can care for you.” The man sounded like he wanted to help her; like it didn’t matter she was freak who had nearly gotten him killed. “I have a place where no one, neither man nor beast would dare follow.”
She wanted to believe him, she really did. But this was her life and in her life no one did something for her without expecting a high price in return. Before she could voice her suspicions the blessed darkness rose up and snatched her consciousness away.
“Buffy, you need to wake-up for a moment,” the familiar voice broke through the darkness. “Wake-up, good, now can you open your eyes?” The kindness in his request made it impossible for her to refuse. She blinked her eyes open to shadows. She heard a wooden match strike and light stabbed her eyes. She jerked her head to the side covering her face with her hands. It was then that she realized she was sitting propped against what felt like a rough brick wall. The sudden movement unbalanced her and caused her to fall over onto her side. The fall jolted her aching head and she couldn’t smother the small cry at the pain.
“I am truly sorry!” The man sounded so distraught that she instantly forgave him. “We have an hour to go before we are at the Maze and you had been so still I wanted to make sure you were only sleeping,” he explained. What the Maze was or why it would take an hour to walk there Buffy didn’t know she only wanted the soft, warmth of the sleep that was rushing up to grab her.
Buffy wondered at how big the man’s hands were as they spanned her back and his other hand slipped under her knees. She was effortlessly lifted and cradled against his chest once again. And she allowed herself to float away listening to the rhythm of his heart.
“Wake-up, I need you to take something,” the voice demanded. Buffy couldn’t refuse the power in it, didn’t want to refuse the kindness she felt radiating off the man.
This time when she opened her eyes she could see a blond blob, she thought it must be his head, back lighted by a torch. The light behind him hurt her eyes, not the terrible pain from earlier, not enough to make her want to close them again. Blinking Buffy fought to clear her sight only nothing seemed to work.
“Be calm,” he said, touching her lightly on her arm.
“Who are you?” The words flew out of her mouth without conscious thought. And the man rocked back as if she had hit him. He stood to his full, impressive height, braced for an attack. It was then she realized that she was lying on some kind of soft cot or camping bed.
“I wish I could see you!” She was frustrated and wondered at his odd behavior. He wasn’t a demon according to her spidey sense. Yet he was as strong as a demon, was her spidey sense broken like her eyesight?
“Perhaps it is best that you cannot,” he answered, visibly relaxing.
“I said that out loud?” Buffy asked, horrified, even as she allowed her head to fall back onto the pillow. He took tentative step closer to the cot giving her a chance to object.
“My name is Vincent and you are safe here,” his voice rolled over her. She felt the truth in his words. She was suddenly aware of him reaching out to her; not with his hand, with his emotions, he was trying to soothe away any fears. Normally, someone using magic, even empathic magic would set-off her alarms, only he was different somehow. She allowed it and instantly was at ease. She sent back a small, clumsy thank you through her spidey sense. Her extra sense simply wasn’t made to be used this way, however Willow had insisted Buffy work on expanding it.
Buffy was hit by a jolt of pure happiness when he felt her.
“Not many people know what I can do nor can they answer,” there was a smile in his voice that she hadn’t heard before and she felt a pleasant set of shivers run down her spine. ‘Great! Half dead and helpless and my libido wants to do the nasty with a man I can’t even see!’
She only hoped that any connection they shared didn’t allow him to know what she was thinking.
Then, the pain came back.
Buffy bit back the scream rising in her throat. She couldn’t understand how one second the pain was tolerable and the next it was like she was skewered with red-hot pokers.
He was there. He was there holding her. One of his hands firm and strong in hers as his other stroked the sweat slick hair out of her face. She tried to curl in on herself, it was instinctive and defensive, and he just wouldn’t let her. He scooped her up in his arms; she heard the cot groan under his weight as he resettled her in his lap.
His arms wrapped around her like a blanket, stilling her movements and causing the slayer within her to start to panic. She knew she was helpless, she knew she was wounded, now that she remembered how badly; the slayer came roaring to the front. Buffy lashed out with her fists against the wall of the chest she was so carefully being held against.
“Shuss,” the kind voice whispered. No sign that her fists had done any damage to him. He gathered both her hands in one of his, easily overpowering her injury-weakened body. “Shuss, your struggles only serve to make the pain worse.” Then the gentleness of his emotions poured over her again like a warm rain, washing away her will to resist him. Smothering her panic as easily as he had just over powered her. She hated being manipulated by magic, she hated that she couldn’t fight, but wrapped up in his embrace everything just floated away.
“I have medication for the pain,” he whispered in her ear. “Open your mouth,” he commanded and she shocked herself by simply compiling. “Under your tongue,” he said and she tasted the bitter pill. Moments later she felt the pain easing and she drifted off to sleep listening to his strong heart.
It was hot. It was blistering hot. And everything was black again. Buffy knew she was awake and she knew her super-charged Slayer body had—finally--kicked into over-drive trying to heal her. She recognized the fever raging through her body as a side affect of the healing. Her throat was so dry she couldn’t swallow. She needed water and she needed food, to fuel her healing and why she couldn’t see! Pushing down the panic she tried to stay calm, she had to stay calm, until she could figure out what was happening. A cool, wet cloth dabbed at her lips, a few drops of water fell onto her tongue, moistening just a small area.
“More,” she croaked out, thoughts of blindness forgotten by the promise of water. Reaching up with her hand to grab onto to his arm trying to pull the cloth back.
“No, you’ll be sick,” he answered her.
“You don’t understand I need water!” Buffy’s tried to shout only to end up sounding a pathetic. If she could only see then she’d get the water herself.
She couldn’t see, again. Only this time her mind wasn’t quite as confused like it had been earlier. She could feel a bandage wrapped around her head so that it was covering her eyes.
Fed up, tired of her body’s betrayal, Buffy reached up to remove the bandages. She was frustrated at her blindness, frustrated that she was so helpless. Playing the damsel so wasn’t her thing.
“No!” The horse shout came from the man, Vincent. Buffy felt a wave of sorrow rush out from him and pound against her. It wasn’t like the gentle reassuring emotions she remembered from earlier, this one was sadness mixed with fear.
She dropped her hands into her lap, realizing that she was propped against something hard and rough. So much for her supernatural noticing ability. Even though her head still hurt she forced her mind to work, the man named Vincent, found her in the Park, he believed her when she said she couldn’t go to the hospital. He brought her to this underground place where he thinks she’d be safe…. The vague memory of the vampire attack floated to the surface, along with the feeling of being softy cradled. Of his immense strength and Buffy tried to smother the hint of fear that crepe in with the realization that she had no idea where she was, she only knew that he carried her for what could had been hours while she was unconscious.
“You are safe and when you are well I will take you Above,” he reassured her as if reading her mind. He emphasis on the word Above made it sound like separate place, a place he wasn’t allowed to visit often.
“O-K,” she said slowly, cursing the concussion that still fogged her mind. She forced the heat and the rising pain down so that she could concentrate. “Why go all Phantom of the Opera on me?”
“I do not find our current situation even remotely related to Erik and Christine,” he said and Buffy couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. She heard him moving around and the soft clang of metal on metal. “Here you must drink something or you will get dehydrated.”
“Duh! That’s what I was trying to tell you!”
“Only a few sips until we know if you can keep it down,” he said. She was about to protest when she felt him lift her hand to a small cup and then he guided it to her lips. She greedily tried to gulp the wonderful, sweet smelling liquid, only to be disappointed to find that the cup contained only a few sips.
“Hey, you cheated,” she protested. Though, her voice was still just a whisper. The heat from her fever and exhaustion that she had pushed to the edge of her awareness rose up trying to smother her. Only this time it was the normal, slayer kind of sleep tugging her under, instead of the unconsciousness of the concussion. He must have sensed her waning strength because she felt him gently lift her and then settle her in a more comfortable position lying on the cot.
“Sleep well, you are safe,” Buffy heard Vincent’s soft baritone and the words seemed to resonate both within her, and within the slayer, as it, too, relaxed its guard into repose.
“Thank you Mouse, though you should not have come. Using the basket on the river was the only way to keep the Tunnels safe.” Buffy woke to the sound of Vincent’s voice and the nearly desperate need to use the bathroom.
“Don’t admonish him, Vincent, it was my idea,” said an old man, by the sound of his voice. The man was used to authority, used to having his opinion listened to and followed. His voice reminded Buffy of Giles
“Father, coming here in your condition was foolish,” Vincent said.
“Over the pipes you said you had an injured woman and one who was a danger to the Tunnels? I would be remiss in my responsibilities as both a physician and….” Buffy blocked out the rest of the man's rant. She sat up; fully intending to let him know that she neither needed nor wanted his help however a wave of dizziness almost sent her stomach into dive. She felt the familiar pull of unconsciousness and fought it with everything she had. She was tired of being the damsel, it was never her style to need rescuing, she was the Slayer, she saved people! Not the other way around! And besides, she really had to use the bathroom and if she fell asleep again she didn't know if she would embarrass herself.
She clumsily pushed the cloth covering her eyes and was surprised when it came off in her hands. She opened her eyes expecting to see the blurriness that had been plaguing her for the past… well... however long it had been since the attacked. Instead she was finally able to focus her eyes. After blinking the soft light of the candles clearly revealed the small cave she was lying in.
“Well hello young lady,” said a shadow from edge of the light said, one of the three figures standing on the edge of the darkness.
“Father please hurry and be back on your way before any danger can befall you,” Vincent stepped fully into the light, and his beauty struck Buffy immediately. The next thing she noticed was how he moved—like a dancer—as he ducked back into the darkness. She was so used to dealing with ugliness every day of her life that it took her a full second to realize he was hiding because of his appearance.
“No, Vincent, please don't go!” the plea was out in the air without a thought and she tried to stand to go after him. Her leg gave out and then he was there catching her--again. She couldn't take her eyes off his face as he lifted her and gently helped her is back on the cot. She had to feel the fuzz covering his cheeks to see if it was as soft as it looked and she trailed the tips of her fingers softly down his face. Clear, bright blue eyes glanced at everything in the small chamber except at her and she felt a slight buzz of fear through her other sense.
He started to stand and she grabbed a hand full of the thick, heavy cloth of his vest and yanked with what little strength she had. He fell heavily to one knee in front of her. He was like a Knight kneeling before his Queen. She knew she was staring but she couldn't help it. Never in her life had she seen such stunning eyes--she felt as if she could see his soul they were so clear.
The man was enormous, or not really, he towered over her and seemed so huge, but compared to her everyone was big. At second glance, she realized he was big, over six feet, only that wasn't what gave the impression of massiveness. It was more the feeling of sheer masculine power that radiated off him, and Buffy was happy she was sitting down because the woman in her was quickly melting.
Buffy almost welcomed the distraction of her body's urgent need to use the bathroom, until she looked up from Vincent and remembered the two other men in the room. That seemed to signal the older man and he stepped forward, studiously ignoring the fact that Buffy still held onto Vincent's vest, keeping him in place.
“Hello, my name is Jacob Wells,” he said in the most officious voice possible. He immediately reminded her of the old retired Watchers they had to find and use when they started to rebuild the Council. He even had the same British accent. The old man pointedly stared at her hand as she held onto Vincent. She dismissed him with her eyes as she turned back to the man in front of her.
Embarrassment making her face hot, “I have to use the....” She said and nodded towards the entrance of the small cave hoping Vincent got the hint. It was bad enough that she was so weak; she didn't need three men as witness. She wasn't used to having so many men around her at once. Actually, her life had very few people of the male persuasion because she mostly dealt with the Slayers.
With a small smile Vincent seemed to understand. Though, as she studied his face it wasn't so much a smile as his eye's lightening. She guessed with fangs like his, he must of have learned early in life not to show his teeth.
She shook her head at how scattered her thoughts were and then regretted it. Good God! She felt bad. She was so dizzy and the edges of her vision became dark and the darkness was quickly bleeding to the center. She fought off the sleep that threatened, and her vision cleared, though her eyes wanted to close.
Vincent understood. She could feel it through her spidey sense as he stood-up lifting her at the same time. How he managed it she didn't know, all she did know was he carried her out of the small cave, and away from Jacob Wells and the other quiet, nameless man. Three steps out into the darkness she was blind again, only it was fine as long as she could feel Vincent. He sat her on something wooden and she figured out the rest.
Her jeans were an issue that he helped her with and then left her in privacy. And then he was there again, but instead of helping with her jeans he just helped her put on a soft nightgown.
Suddenly, the embarrassment fled because he didn't care that she needed help doing the simplest things. He didn't expect her to be strong like her family or friends did. Buffy remembered his whispered promise to protect her, even if it was just from humiliation.
“Father needs to look at your leg,” he told her matter of factly as he carried her back into the chamber that held her sick bed. Ha! Sick bed! She'll show them how fast she healed! However when he laid her on the small cot the sleep she'd been fighting rose up and pulled her under.
The scream bouncing off the walls of the small chamber woke her. After a second she realized it was her voice that had screamed. “Vincent help me,” a man's voice said and it took her a moment to get her bearings. Sweat dampened hair falling into her face as she sat up.
Her leg. It felt like a thousand burning knives had stabbed her in her thigh. Vincent grabbed her hand in mid punch, a punch she didn't know she was throwing until he stopped it.
She was so hot!
“Easy, be easy, Father needs to finish cleaning out the infection in your wound,” Vincent said, in that soft rumbling voice that she felt more than heard. “Breathe, take a deep breath,” he encouraged, so she tried it. The pain began to lessen and she was able to relax in his arms. Until another lance of red-hot agony came from her leg.
“Mouse my bag....” the rest of the old man's words were lost as she tried to escape the arms that held her. The tiny prick of a needle sliding into her other leg was nearly overwhelmed by the other pain coming from the gunshot wound. “She shouldn't be awake, Vincent. You know I would never allow someone to be in pain if I could help it”
Instantly she felt relief and she let herself fall back into the peace of sleep.
“Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston LeRoux,” Vincent's voice brought her up from sleep softly. “The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists....” She faded out and then she was pulled back in to consciousness by the anchor of his voice as he read to her. “Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade.”
His rich baritone brought her along for the ride. Maybe she could the see the world the words created unfolding before her because Dawn was always dragging her across the channel to the museums in Paris? Though, she had to admit that the catacombs below the city held more interest for her than the marvelous paintings above. Or it could be the drugs she could still feel coursing through her body? Or it could simply be who was reading the story?
“When I began to ransack the archives of the National Academy of Music I was at once struck by the surprising coincidences between the phenomena ascribed to the "ghost" and the most extraordinary....”
None of it really mattered to Buffy as she floated on the warm river his voice created. She could feel the pain from her leg and the concussion in the background and was happy for the distraction of the story.