Title: Tunnel Vision
Author: Spike’s Heart
Pairing: Spike/Buffy, Vincent/Catherine
Rating: Not even PG
Setting: Early season 6 BtVS and season 2 BatB
Disclaimer: If they were mine, I’d let them grow up.
Feedback: Yes, please!
Archive: Ask me, nicely.
A/N: Crossover with Beauty and the Beast, written for liliaeth, just because.
Beta’d by: willshenilshe
Summary: Giles sends Buffy and Spike to New York on a mission, and they come home with more than they expected.
“Central Park in the Spring… it’s a wonderful place, Slayer.” Spike bounced around giddily, light on his feet. “A bit changed from m’last visit, but we lucked out on the weather. Just take a smell of those trees.”
“You don’t need to breathe, and we’re not here to deal with the flora and fauna of New York,” Buffy muttered. “Remind me how we managed to get stuck on book retrieval duty together? Nobody even likes us in the same room and here we’re on a freakin’ road trip.”
“You, luv, were bored beyond the telling of it. It was either research or road trip, and since nobody in their right mind would put you behind the wheel, I got volunteered.”
“A whole week to go across the country because otherwise you turn into vampire flambé,” Buffy whined, stretching her back and her legs out when they stopped to rest a moment. “My ass is numb from sitting so long.”
With a lecherous grin, he reached out towards her, fingers flexing. “I can always massage some feeling back into that lovely ass, Slayer.”
How dare he!! “You… you… keep your evil hands to yourself!” she shrieked. Reacting blindly, Buffy hauled back and soundly clocked the smirking vampire for his trouble.
“Bitch,” Spike spat, wiping the blood from his split lip with his thumb before licking it off.
“Keep it up, pidge, and you can find your own way home.”
“Without you, I could travel during the day. I’d fly home,” she muttered. “Six hours… not six days.” Buffy looked around, seeing nothing but green grass and hills. “Do you even know where we’re going? Giles wasn’t very specific. All he said was find a grate and a series of tunnels, and someone will meet us.”
Spike grinned, remember his glory days of stalking through New York with Dru. “Used to know all the tunnels around here in the seventies. The City was a feast for vampires with nothing but time on their hands.”
Her voice rising in anger, Buffy grabbed the vampire by his duster’s lapels. “Do you have to do that?”
“Do what, pet?”
“First of all, I’m not your pet. I’m not your anything,” she snapped. “I meant, do you have to constantly remind me of your feeding frenzies?”
“All I have left is my memories, Slayer. Even you have to leave a man that much.” Spike shrugged her hands off, continuing before she got her words in. “And don’t bother sayin’ it. I’m not a man. I get it. I’m an evil, soulless thing.”
“What? Not the first words on the top of your tongue? Would be a first time for everything, I s’pose.”
“Fine! Just… fine! You know me so well, you can just hold both parts of the conversation from now on,” Buffy yelled, hands on hips and eyes flashing with anger. “That’s it. No more talking for Buffy. The stupid vampire can read my stupid mind so why should I ever say anything again? Absolute silence will be the only thing you ever hear from me…”
Taking his unlife in his hands, Spike grabbed the screaming woman, silencing her with a firm hand across her mouth.
“Will you shut up a bit more… quietly?” he growled. “A woman yelling in the middle of Central Park is not the way to avoid attention. And we’re supposed to be looking for a secret tunnel. Do you think anyone is goin’ to be willin’ to meet with us while you’re screaming like a banshee?”
Chastened for the moment, Buffy refrained from biting his hand, and shook her head, hoping he’d understand.
“No more shoutin’?”
Slayer and vampire were startled apart by a woman in her mid-twenties, wearing a business suit. They’d been so wrapped up in their own business, that they hadn’t noticed her approach.
“Is that man bothering you, Miss?” The stranger raised her arm, aiming what appeared to be a can of mace in Spike’s direction.
“N-no, I’m f-fine,” Buffy managed to grit out, stepping away from Spike. “We were having a disagreement over something I didn’t say.”
“You wouldn’t be the people from Sunnydale I’m supposed to be meeting with by any chance?” She chuckled, amused at their shocked expressions. “You know, secretly? On the QT? Without drawing attention to ourselves?”
Spike tapped his nose, grinning widely. “I like you. An ask questions first bird.” The sound of Buffy’s growling fueled his good humor. “An’ yeah, that would be us, Sunnyhell’s finest.”
“I’m Catherine. I’ll be your guide to Father. He’s not overly keen on handing over the materials your Mr. Giles requested… especially to strangers. However,” she raised her hand, forestalling the complaints already on the tips of her contacts’ tongues, “he has agreed to meet with you first, and judge you on your merits.”
Buffy swiped her hand over her face in tired resignation. “Next you’ll be telling us your location is so secret, you’ll have to blindfold us so we can’t find our way back.”
The woman actually blushed, not quite able to meet Buffy’s eyes.
“Oh, bloody hell, Slayer! She thinks we’re actually gonna put up with this!”
“I-I’m sorry, really I am,” Catherine apologized. “It’s just that we’re very protective of Below. It’s home to so many people, and we can’t jeopardize their safety by carelessly letting in a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“Or a vampire,” Buffy ever-so-kindly pointed out.
Infuriated, Spike’s eyes danced with amber flecks, the demon threatening to emerge. “After all this time, you still think I would hurt people… even if I could?”
“Actually,” Catherine interrupted, “I was referring more to the Slayer than to you. There are some interesting denizens Below, and everyone is under Father’s protection.”
Great! Now she was considered more dangerous than a vampire… oh, wait… she was. “Look, Catherine, is it? We obviously got off on the wrong foot here. Yeah, I’m the Slayer, but hello! Working with a vampire? If it doesn’t attack me or someone helpless, I’ll defer to you and this… Father. And please, call me Buffy.”
“Oh, that’s so cute! What’s your real name?”
Spike barely held back a cackle, lest he pay for that later.
Obviously, Catherine realized from the look on Buffy’s face that she’d put her foot in it. “Sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings. I just thought it might be short for something – like Elizabeth. And you can call me Cathy.” Turning to Spike, she asked: “And you are?”
“My name is William, but I prefer Spike,” he mumbled, frankly put out that Buffy hadn’t introduced him as anything but ‘a vampire’.
“You guys are actually very close to our entrance… there’s a storage drain about a hundred feet in that direction,” Catherine said, pointing to a small hill to their left. “Mouse will meet us and help me guide you to Father.” As an afterthought, she added: “I’m really sorry if you’re uncomfortable about the blindfolds, but protection of our citizens is our paramount concern.”
Spike growled low in his chest, voicing his displeasure – and received a light punch in the arm for his troubles.
“Don’t tell me the Big Bad is afraid of the dark.” Buffy snickered, even though she was just as unsettled about the blindfold. She never liked going into an unknown situation without all her senses operating fully. Survival instinct.
This situation required trust… a leap of faith; Giles insisted that these books and scrolls were urgently needed, so…
”We’ll cope,” she insisted. “But I agree with Spike. Neither of us has survived this long being sensually handicapped.”
Utter silence and stares greeted her statement. “What? I’m agreeing to your terms… I don’t have to like them.”
The softest look crossed Spike’s face, but was gone before Buffy could comment on it. “Never you mind, pet. Let’s just get this game of blind man’s bluff over with.”
They were met at the tunnel entrance by a skittish blond, introduced as Mouse. “No fear. Don’t worry. Mouse will get you Below safe and sound,” he babbled as the blindfolded pair was led deeper into the maze of tunnels before them.
“We could have saved ourselves a week’s trip if we wanted to traipse around tunnels we can’t see in,” Buffy grumbled, allowing herself to be pushed and prodded in the proper direction. “And that banging is gonna drive me nuts. What’s the what with that?”
“Pascal makes the pipes sing. Let’s people know we have company.” Mouse stopped, pushing Spike against the wall when he got too close to the edge of the trail. “Mouse can let Pascal know when someone falls and hurts. Have to be careful. The trail is tricky.”
“The trail wouldn’t be so bloody tricky if we could see where to put our feet,” Spike groused, not any happier than Buffy at losing one of his most important senses in assessing a new environment. His ears pricked up at something moving above him… adding it to the litany of things he was keeping track of.
Catherine apologized one more time as she released their blindfolds. Their trek had finally come to a halt. They found themselves standing in a large chamber lit by candles and lined by bookshelves. Additional stacks of books cluttered the floor and half the desktop.
The chair behind the desk swiveled around to reveal an older man with thick salt-and-pepper hair, a matching goatee and mustache, and clear blue eyes. He reached for a cane leaning against the desk and stood.
Catherine immediately went to his side and enveloped the man in a hug. “Hello, Father. These are Mr. Giles’ associates from Sunnydale: William, and his mate, Buffy.”
Both Father and Catherine turned sharply at the twin cries of outrage from their guests.
With cheeks pinkened from embarrassment, Buffy reigned in her temper. It wouldn’t be very impressive to throw a childish fit amongst strangers. After all, they were only words. Yeah, words that left an impression that was just… so wrong.
“Sorry for the little outburst,” she demurred. “Spi… William and I are so not mates. We barely even work together. In fact…,” Buffy began to babble, as if trying to make herself believe the words she was saying, “we-we’re mortal enemies. Or we were mortal enemies. You know, what with the wanting to kill each other and… oh gods,” she groaned, actually looking to Spike for help. “Will you stop me, please?”
Spike bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing out loud. Poor girl was working overtime to convince herself that she had no feelings for him. Could make for an interesting ride home if he played it right.
“What the Slayer is tryin’ to say in her own inimitable way,” he drawled, holding back the words until the right ones made themselves known, “is we’re not as close as some of us would like, and closer than others of us would care to admit.”
Buffy shook her head in agreement until his words actually sunk in, and turned her fury on him.
“What does it take to get through to you, Spike? I’ll state it for the record again, in front of witnesses. We do not have a personal relationship, and we barely have a working relationship.” Throwing her hands up in despair, she cried: “For gods’ sake, it’s in our genetic makeup to destroy each other. I don’t love you. I can’t love you!”
Before Spike had a chance to answer her back, a soft purr of a voice came from the doorway to the chamber. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” heralding the arrival of Below’s most well-known citizen.
A tall, black cloaked figure strode into the room, gathering Catherine into his arms for a hug. When she reached up to remove the hood, the woman made the introductions: “Buffy, William… this is Vincent, my mate.”
Vincent cut an impressive figure. About six and a half feet tall, broad shouldered, and wearing an outfit that could have come directly from a romance novel – suede pants and boots and a white cotton poet’s shirt. And yet, it wasn’t the outfit that had caught the Slayer’s attention.
He sported a full head of long, tawny hair, setting off a leonine face; blue eyes, a broad nose and a short muzzle, leading to a cat-like split upper lip.
“Trust me when I say that Catherine knows the… difficulties of inter-species relationships all too well,” Vincent said, softly. “However, we will not be parted, and the effort brings great rewards.” He placed a chaste kiss on his mate’s forehead; happy just to be close to her.
Spike heard Buffy’s heartbeat and respiration speed up at Vincent’s uncloaking and tensed, ready to try and hold her back if she lost control of the situation. A discreet sniff revealed a startling conclusion.
“Slayer, he’s human.”
“And you are not. Father told us of your visit, William. May we see the vampire demon without causing you distress?”
Spike quickly dropped his human mask, and this time it was Catherine’s turn to gasp.
“May I?” she asked, staring intently into his eyes. At his nod, Catherine reached up and traced the hardened cartilage that formed his brow ridges and cheeks. “Beautiful,” she whispered, turning to Buffy. “It’s such a uniquely expressive face.”
Losing himself in a little praise for a change, Spike missed the expression of longing that flittered across Buffy’s face.
“I-it’s a m-matter of perspective,” she stuttered, slamming her defenses back into place. “He wears the face of the demons I’ve been taught to kill on sight since I’m fifteen years old.”
“And yet you work with him, side-by-side?”
Father’s question took her by surprise. Buffy had been so focused on Spike and Vincent that she’d forgotten his presence.
“The whole Slayer mythology is what unnerved me most about allowing you entry to our home. We tend to be a very protective lot, and there are many differences amongst our peoples. We do, in fact, have several vampires living in our deeper chambers. You, Miss Buffy, are a natural born killer… a predator who kills first, and doesn’t bother with questions, from what I was led to believe.”
The urge to hang her head in shame was strong, but Buffy faced Father with her chin held high. She knew her job, and did what she had to do.
“What I find intriguing is the dichotomy I see before me – the amalgam of the Slayer mythos and the reality of the girl.” Father stroked his beard, ambling around both Spike and Buffy as he continued to speak his mind. “A demon slayer standing between a vampire and an unknown, with the ability to stay her weapon to listen and learn. Amazing.”
“I-I’m not an animal. I can think for myself – make my own choices,” Buffy defended.
Father pressed on, standing toe-to-toe with the girl. “But you’ve just said you’ve been taught to kill vampires on sight. And I assume that code applies to other breeds… demons, as well. What makes this vampire different? Why did you stay your hand in regards to a total unknown in regards to Vincent?”
Spike growled, pulling Buffy against his body in support as she began to tremble. “Back off, old man.” There’s no need to attack the chit.”
Changing focus, he turned towards Spike. “And you, vampire… what makes you throw your lot in with a killer of your kind? And don’t tell me about that piece of government frippery in your head. Even a child can coerce another to get something out of his reach. Not to mention the way you come to the defense of a girl who claims to want nothing to do with you.”
This was turning into an inquisition, and Catherine put a stop to it. “Father! Maybe we should offer our guests a seat and something to eat and drink. There will be plenty of time for questions after they’ve had time to rest.”
Leading Buffy to an offered chair, Spike pulled out one for himself and sat down next to her. “Thanks, luv. Was getting a bit tired of standin’ and getting yelled at for no reason.”
Vincent bowed slightly before pulling out chairs for Catherine and himself. “I offer my apologies for such rude behavior. Father usually greets his guests with far better manners than he’s shown to you tonight.”
“Don’t apologize for me, son. There’s a method to my madness, and I got some of what I needed from this encounter.” Father offered his hand. “Welcome to Below.”
Everyone relaxed over dinner. One of the women, Mary, brought a large pot of stew, heavy with thick brown gravy and large chunks of meat, potatoes and vegetables. Mouse brought several loaves of crusty fresh bread and a container of warmed cow’s blood for Spike.
Table talk was loud and filled with eclectic topics, ranging from Sunnydale and its status as a Hellmouth, to the difficulty in keeping people safe and cared for in such an isolated community, to sports and literature.
After dinner, while Father attended to business, Buffy and Catherine walked around the common spaces. Buffy marveled at the sense of peace and happiness she felt, despite the utilitarian nature of everything. Below wasn’t a place of designer fashions, or delicate china plates, but of families. Children practically glowed with the attention they received from anyone nearby.
Buffy thought back to her childhood in Los Angeles and all the latest material things she had thought made her happy, and would have given up everything to have her family together again.
Spike and Vincent spent their time apart from the ladies amongst Father’s books, and discussed the ‘creature of the night’ status they’d both been relegated to. The candlelight was a blessing to Spike’s eyes, reminding him of simpler times. Modern lighting wasn’t always a boon to sensitive vampire eyes.
Walking around the chamber, Spike ran his hand over the bindings of the shelved books. One after the other the authors called out at him: Byron, Browning, Keats, Shelley, Whitman, Yeats, Dickinson… Shakespeare! A veritable treasure trove of leather-bound first editions.
His awe did not go unnoticed by Vincent.
“I take it you have a yen for poetry, William?”
Spike snatched his hand from the books as if he’d been burned.
“They’re only words, my friend. Nothing to hurt you,” Vincent laughed, pulling an old volume of Shakespeare so favored the pages fell open. He began to read:
“Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou are more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:”…
Words that have become the windows to a world I have no access to during daylight hours.”
Tentatively, Spike reached out, receiving tacit permission with a nod, and retrieved a book of his own – reciting a well-loved verse:
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
“Yeats… a lovely choice. Seems we have a thing for poets named William, my friend.”
“There are a lot of hours to fill,” the vampire admitted, “and American television leaves a lot to be desired in satisfactory entertainment.” Spike smiled awkwardly, a bit unsettled at sharing so much of himself with another after so many years.
“Come with me to my personal chamber. I have a few lesser known works you might enjoy. Another William, for that matter.”
Vincent’s bedroom chamber, while large, gave the appearance of being jammed full of… things. Large, overstuffed couches and pillows, not to mention a huge bed. A beautiful stained glass window was set into the rock of one wall, glowing with the light from inside the chamber, and without.
“Make yourself comfortable. Catherine will lead your girl here when she finds the library empty.” After rooting around on his nightstand, Vincent found the book he was looking for – a small, non-descript volume, bound in worn brown leather.
“This is one of my favorite unknown poets. His work isn’t polished, but he’s so earnest… you cannot help but be moved by his words:
"My soul is wrapped in harsh repose,
midnight descends in raven-colored clothes,
A sunlight beam
cutting a swath of glimmering gleam.
My heart expands,
'tis grown a bulge in it,
inspired by your beauty...
He looked up from the book expecting Spike’s opinion on the verse to find the man with his head buried in his hands. “What’s the matter, William? Are Mr. Bennett’s words so painful to your ears?”
“Mrne,” he mumbled into his hands, refusing to look up.
“That was an odd little poem,” said Buffy, who’d just appeared in the entranceway with Catherine. “Very sweet.”
She wasn’t laughing. Spike couldn’t believe it. His past had been outed somehow, and it wasn’t being ridiculed. Vincent didn’t know… couldn’t know… that he was the author of the piece.
“What’s the matter, William? I take it you’re not a fan of poetry like Vincent is?” Catherine’s look of amusement was kind, not cutting, and Spike gathered his courage to answer.
“This stays between you an’ me, Slayer,” he said, looking only at Buffy. “I’ve got enough problems with demons an’ humans without them findin’ out about me an’ poetry.” Looking at the little book nearly dwarfed in Vincent’s paw-like hands, he asked: “Where did you find that book, mate?”
Vincent turned the book over in his hands, reading the name stamped on the cover in flaking gold leaf. “An old bookseller said he had a collection of books from a vanity press… this was the last of a dozen of so ordered by the sister of the author after his untimely death.”
“Rose,” Spike whispered.
Buffy looked at him curiously. Hands on her hips and voice soft, she asked: “Who’s Rose?”
“You’re William Bennett?” Vincent was taken aback. For one thing, he had the author of one of his favorite ‘oddities’ sitting across from him. For another… it brought the eternally unchanging factor to vampirism home with a bang. William had died a young man in 1880 and hadn’t added so much as a wrinkle in over a hundred and twenty years. Phenomenal.
“William Bennett,” Buffy repeated softly. “I-it makes you seem different… more real. A last name means a real history and family – a sister! Maybe you have descendents that are still living and…” the look on Spike’s face brought her up mid-sentence. “And maybe I should keep quiet about that, huh?”
“It’s okay that you know, pet, but I’d appreciate it not gettin’ back to the Watcher or his merry band of fools. My family did nothing wrong. From the day I rose, I kept it all away from them. Even Dru didn’t know I had a sister. Rosie was a few years younger than me, but was already married and out of the house.”
“Oh, William, that’s so sad.” Catherine’s eyes grew teary. “Did you ever see your sister again?”
Leaning against the back of the couch, Spike closed his eyes, lost in memories. “I saw Rose with her children five years after I’d been turned. Her husband had died an’ she was left to raise my two nephews alone. I swear she’d bloody well aged twenty years since I’d died. I never saw her again.”
Buffy could hardly believe what she had heard. Even during his slaughtering days – when he was as evil and soulless as she’d always accused him of being – he’d kept track of his family. And kept the Watchers off their trail, as well.
“I won’t tell, Spike,” she promised. “I won’t say a word to Giles or anybody else about your family. And if you ever nee… want to talk about them, I’d listen.”
“Who are you and what did you do with the real Slayer?” Spike was joking, but he caught a brief glimpse of pain flash through her eyes. “S’all right, pet. I believe you. And ta for the offer. Might just take you up on it some day. You’d’ve liked Rose. Had a lot of spirit in her, even for a proper young Victorian matron.”
Catherine turned to Buffy with an amused smile. “Since it’s been established that our guys like poetry… and Father won’t have your books ready until tomorrow, anyway… why don’t we get them to read to us? Nice and soothing, something that’ll send us off to sleep all warm and relaxed?”
“Splendid idea, my love.” Vincent picked out several books after a moment’s thought and handed them to Spike, receiving a raised eyebrow for his efforts. “Why don’t you begin, William? I think you might find something… appropriate amongst those volumes.”
Settling back into the cushions, keeping a wary eye on Buffy, who’d also relaxed enough to lean up against him for comfort, Spike made his choice.
If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange
And be all to me? Shall I never miss
Home-talk and blessing and the common kiss
That comes to each in turn, nor count it strange,
When I look up, to drop on a new range
Of walls and floors… another home than this?
Nay, wilt thou fill that place by me which is
Filled by dead eyes too tender to know change?
That’s hardest. If to conquer love, has tried,
To conquer grief, tries more… as all things prove;
For grief indeed is love and grief beside.
Alas, I have grieved so I am hard to love.
Yet love me – wilt though? Open thine heart wide,
And fold within, the wet wings of thy dove.
Sonnets from the Portuguese 35 – If I Leave All For Thee
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
His recitation was soft and emotive, leaving all, including himself, somewhat teary. When he dared to search Buffy’s face for her reaction, she wiped at her tears and snuggled a little closer – refusing to give voice to her feelings, but her actions spoke loudly enough to satisfy Spike for the moment.
They took turns throughout the night, each reading from their favorites. The hours flew by like minutes as they lost themselves to the beauty of the words, and all too soon the need for sleep made itself known.
Vincent gave his guests the use of his chamber for the night, while he and Catherine left for privacy’s sake.
Warily, the vampire and Slayer agreed there was enough space on the bed for two adults to lie – apart and chaste – and settled in for sleep. Within a half hour, their bodies found each other, and limbs entwined sleep deepened.
Buffy woke first, to a soft, rumbling vibration against her back. It took barely a moment for her to realize that Spike had spooned up against her, molding her body to his – and was purring his… contentment in his sleep.
It was such a peaceful sound and feeling that Buffy would have been perfectly happy to just close her eyes and drift off to sleep again, but a sharp clanging in the pipes shattered the mood, and woke Spike up, as well.
Who immediately backed off when he realized his arms were holding the Slayer tightly around her waist.
She looked at Spike… the vampire who’d read love poems aloud last night. The man who’d written poetry before his turning. It shamed her to see the expectation of a beating in his eyes for daring to hold her.
“It’s okay, Spike. Really.” She tried for her most placating tone, wanting to see that look vanish. “Using me as a fully dressed Bedtime Buffy Bear doesn’t qualify for a bruising. Not this time,” she hurried to add, as a small grin formed on Spike’s lips. Damn, it doesn’t take much to encourage him, does it?
“Let’s get a move on, pet. Smells like that last bout of clangin’ through the pipes was a brekkie call.”
Sure enough, Vincent and Catherine appeared at the doorway, and ushered them into the main dining hall for a communal breakfast. They were to meet with Father afterwards, to receive Giles’ requested materials.
“Breakfast” turned out to be rather sparse – some bread and butter, cereal, powdered milk… and another container of cow’s blood for Spike. Catherine explained that some days’ offerings were more meager than others, and last night’s stew was a rarity in honor of their company. That meant making up the excess by tightening the belt for other meals.
Seeing the distress on his guests’ faces, Vincent quickly assured them that nobody went hungry because of their meal, and that there tended to be feast and famine days Below, depending on donations and luck.
Mouse made his way to their table, informing Spike and Buffy that Father was ready to see them now in the library.
“I trust you all spent the night well?” Father’s greeting was certainly far warmer than yesterday’s inquisition. “The good news is that I’ve found the materials Mr. Giles asked for. The bad news is I can’t give them to him. They are to be loaned, only, and are the sole copies left in existence, and I’ll need them back. Will you be willing to return them?”
Buffy agreed, looking over at Spike since he would obviously be her… companion. A tilt of his head showed his acquiescence.
The prized books and scrolls were wrapped in burlap, and then placed in a burlap sack. As he handed the materials over to Spike, Father repeated his warning. “Be careful. These are irreplaceable.”
Catherine promised to keep in touch through her email at work, and made sure to hand out her business card before she made her farewells. The trip back through the maze of tunnels was made without blindfolds, and just Vincent as an escort.
For a good portion of their journey, children darted past them with reckless abandon, playing games and squealing happily, occasionally brushing close enough to cause either Buffy or Spike to lose their footing on a slippery pipe.
“Careful, children,” Vincent admonished the last group who’d actually caused Buffy to stumble. Luckily she managed to keep her hold on the pipe, and only her pride was injured.
Spike grumbled something about “kids in his day” under his breath, obviously shaken by the Slayer’s near-fall. How could he have been so distracted?
Vincent forged on ahead, sure footed from countless years of treading the same path, even as the ravine deepened. Spike kept his position behind Buffy; should she stumble again. This time he’d make sure she was…
One of the little girls who’d caused Buffy to slip before was back, pushing her way past Spike, who was barely able to hold his own footing and the burlap sack of valuables. Instead of skirting past Buffy, the little beast not only crashed into her, causing her to fall, but lost her own footing as well, leaving both of them hanging on to the edge of the cliff by their fingers.
“Spike,” Buffy yelled. “Save the girl. I don’t think she can hang on much longer… the edge is crumbling.”
Between a rock and a hard place, Spike put down the books, and hauled Buffy up first…all she needed was a hand to lever herself up and over the edge.
Was she grateful? Of course not. “Stupid vampire… I said get the kid first.” The edge in her voice was just concern for the little chit, and Spike paid it no mind whatsoever.
He immediately bent down to grasp the little one’s arms when she flailed out, striking the bag with the scrolls and books and sending it over the edge. Vincent was barely within reach… Buffy was on the other side of him and it was save the books, or the girl.
With a roar, Vincent grabbed the little girl out of Spike’s arms. “Mari,” he snarled. “I thought I told you to go home.”
“But Father said to tell you it’s okay,” the little girl whined, seemingly more upset over the scolding than her near fatal accident.
Mari scrambled away over the pipes, as sure-footed as if she’d been on flat ground, and was soon out of sight.
“Sorry about the books, mate. I didn’t expect…”
“What is gone, is gone. No use worrying about it now.” Vincent led them the rest of the way in silence.
Buffy approached the grill blocking the drain’s entrance, almost sorry that the adventure had to end. Except for losing the materials they’d been sent to fetch, the past few days had been somewhat enlightening. She’d gotten to see a side of Spike she’d never have believed if she hadn’t seen it with her own two eyes.
And Vincent! A character out of a romance novel. Sweet, kind, protective – one of a kind. Deeply in love with a woman whose life he couldn’t share in daylight hours, or in public. A love hidden by necessity, rather than by choice.
It shamed her to think she’d probably have attacked him first if he’d crossed her path in Sunnydale. So much to think about. Well, she had a week to do so on the ride home. Especially an excuse for Giles about the missing books.
“William, may I speak with you for a moment before you leave?” Vincent reached into his cape and pulled out a burlap sack similar to the one that fell down the ravine. “Sorry for the subterfuge in the tunnels, but we had to make sure what kind of people these books were ending up with.”
Spike took the bundle from the beast-man’s paws. “Thought the little hellspawn scarpered around too sure-footed to have slipped like that.”
“Are you telling me this whole thing was a test? You put a little girl at risk to see if Spike or I would let a child die for a bunch of musty old books?” Buffy was outraged. “Musty old fake books?!”
“Calm down, child. Mari was raised in the tunnels. She wouldn’t have fallen if you threw her over the side.” With a twinkle of amusement in his eyes, Vincent turned to Spike. “Besides, there was a ledge a foot below where they were hanging. Mari and your Slayer were never in trouble.”
“The documents you have are truly the originals you seek, and we are looking forward to their return, and yours, when you have no further need of them.”
“No more games.” Buffy demanded, her heart still racing over the perceived danger in the tunnels. “And no more of that blindfold business?”
“Spike’s saving your life was expected, Buffy, When one’s heart is involved, nothing less would do. It was saving Mari’s life, at the expense of what you sought that sealed our trust in you both. Mari means nothing to you, but everything to her parents and the community.”
“It’s what I do – what we do,” she admitted. “We help those in need of help, usually against the vampire and demons, but a little plain save-age works, too.”
Holding open the grillwork, Vincent bid his guests adieu. “Farewell, tiny warrior,” he said, eyeing Spike as he scooped Buffy into his arms, bringing her face to face. “Remember to look inside the beast, for often there lies the tenderest of hearts.”
Buffy wrapped her arms around Vincent’s massive neck, burrowing into his mane. “Thank you,” she whispered. “For everything. For more than you’ll ever know.”
Closing the gate, he watched the two until they disappeared in the distance. “Interesting people,” he thought, as he made his way back to Catherine. “Their return visit should prove just as interesting.”