Birthday Girl


"Who's there?"

Buffy looked around wearily. It had been a long, long night, and she was tired of games. She closed her bedroom door and stared uselessly into the black.

"I'm gonna ask you one more time, and then I'm going to get testy."

The darkness parted in a thin red line as the unseen intruder lit a cigarette and brought it to their mouth in one smooth arc. "Not a good birthday?"

She closed her eyes for a moment, half relieved and half pissed to Hell as recognition hit her. "Angel."

He took a drag from his cigarette, which illuminated his face some, bathing it in Hellfire orange. "Maybe you should consider not celebrating them anymore."

She walked a couple steps further into the room. "I didn't know you smoked."

He smiled a little, slight curve of the mouth that did not reach his eyes. "You didn't answer my question."

She sighed and walked in a little further, sat next to him on her bed. "No. It was not a good birthday. You're very perceptive."

He shrugged. "I lurk."

"And yes, I have considered . . . but it's important. To them, I mean. Especially now . . . it's been hard on them," she finished quietly, looking not at him, but at her hands. Shaking slightly. Stress. "Me dying and all."

"Not hard on you?" he asked softly, slightly raising an eyebrow.

She smiled a little, imitating his. It didn't reach her eyes. "Well, yeah, but sometimes I wonder who it hurts more. I mean, I died, and . . . well, so did you, and I'm kind of having a hard time deciding which one hurt me worse."

"You weren't so much hurt by your dying as your coming back," he guessed, correctly, and breathed in more nicotine.

"Can I have one?"

He handed her a cigarette, lighting it with a heavy silver lighter once it was between her pretty lips. "You don't smoke."

"You don't breathe. I don't see *how* you can smoke."

He chuckled. "Semblance of breath."

She coughed a little, but took another breath of smoke. He was right. She didn't smoke. "What do you mean?"

"What I mean is, I pretend."

She looked at her hands again, at the glowing bud she held in her shaking fingers. "Oh." There was a short silence, the gentle huff and puff of her breathing, Angel's semblance of breath. "Why are you here?"

He smiled. Genuine, this time. "I brought you a birthday gift." He motioned to a long box between his legs, bent tent-like above her bed.

She looked at it for a long moment before responding. "I'm almost afraid to ask."

He shook his head. "No, don't be. Never, ever be afraid to ask. Anything." He picked up the package and held it out to her, waiting expectedly for her to take it. After a short, awkward moment of juggling her cigarette, she took the box in one hand and set it in her lap. She looked at it, not really knowing how to feel about the entire series of events unfolding in her bedroom.

"Aren't you going to open it?"

"Do I have to?" she asked after a beat.

He was quiet for a moment, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. "No, I guess not."

She fingered the dark wrapping paper. "Is this a big decision?"

He smiled again. "It can be."

She looked at the cigarette in her hand, dropping ashes all over the place. "I don't -"

He held out a small glass ashtray, surely something he'd brought with him as it was nothing she owned, and she awkwardly stubbed out the butt and released the ashtray back to him. He spirited it away, and she was aware of a soft noise as he placed it on the bedside table at his right hand.

Carefully, she tore off the glossy wrapping paper and tore the tape holding the box together with her thumbnail. Breath tight in her chest, she lifted the lid and pushed aside some fairy wisps of white tissue paper. Dumbstruck, she looked down at the two objects lying innocently enough in the bottom of the tissue paper nest.

"I don't understand."

He turned for a moment, and the glint of his cigarette bloomed into something more with a hiss. She looked briefly over his shoulder; he'd lit a candle on the bedside table, and then stubbed out his own cigarette.

"Well," he said softly, rising, "you will, I guess. But first, you have to make a decision."

She didn't look up from the box on her lap. "What?"

"You're going to have to decide," he murmured, walking around the bed and kneeling in front of her, taking her hands, "whether or not you want to be saved."

She closed her eyes. "I don't understand."

He smiled. "Yes, you do."

She opened her eyes, rimmed with tears. Yes, she did. "Tara says I didn't come back wrong."

He nodded. "No."

"But I am . . . I'm wrong. This isn't me."

"It is."

She tore her hand away from him. "No!"

He took them back, held them through her struggling. "Yes, it is. It's always been you, Buffy." She turned her face away from him; he took one hand and gently turned it back to face him. She put her eyes upon him again, glaring angrily. "The same person who moaned and came on the mansion floor when I drank from them. Always you."

She shook her head. "No," she whispered huskily.

"Yes," he said gently.

"But I hate it."

"Well, that's okay too." He dropped her hands and rose. "But you don't have to. And you won't forever."

She didn't say anything. He drew out the chair from her desk, took the box from her and set it atop it. "You have a decision to make, love."

"You'll leave if I ask you, won't you?" she asked dully, voice emotionless.

He nodded. "Yes."

"And if I asked you to stay forever, you'd do that too, wouldn't you?"

"Yes. But you won't ask me to do either, and we both know it."

She was quiet, looking at her hands again. There was a cigarette burn on her left wrist, not from her own cigarette, but from Spike's.


He looked over at her, waiting. Forever waiting.

"Save me."

He nodded again, then turned around and retrieved one of the objects from her box. Even in the faint light, she knew which one it was. Not much mistaking the shape.

"Take your clothes off."

She stood clumsily and stripped, slowly because of the numbness that flowed through her fingers and her aching muscles. When she was finished, she stood before him, numb and naked and standing in a puddle of her own clothes. It had been a long time since he'd seen her even without a bra on, but there wasn't any embarrassment, or any lust. He wasn't looking at her with distaste or appraisal. It was simply recognition, passive, quiet. Like him.

She wet her lips. "What now?"

"I want you to kneel on the bed, facing the wall. Hands on the headboard." She did as she was told without comment or argument. "Spread your legs a little," he ordered without any order in his voice, gently running a hand over the inside of one thigh. She did that, too, and he knelt behind her on the bed, unbuttoning and slipping out of his shirt, letting it pool behind him on the bed, and gripping Buffy's birthday present tightly in one hand.

"Ever been spanked?"

She flushed a little, not that he could see it. "When I was little, by my parents -"

"That's not quite the same thing, and it's not what I mean," he said kindly.

"Oh," she said dumbly, flushing some more. "No, then."

"Twenty-one, right? And one for good luck?"

"Huh? Oh, birthday spankings . . . yeah. Twenty-one," she echoed. "And one for luck."

He put his hand gently on her hip for a moment, reassuring. "This will be cleansing. Kind of a penance for sins."

"You're Catholic, right?"

"Yes. I mean, I was raised that way. Been a long time since I've attended mass, though," he said, a bit dryly.

"Guess I never thought about it."

"This doesn't really have much to do with that."

"It has everything to do with that," she whispered miserably.

"Do you want me to stop?" he asked, concerned.

"We haven't started yet."

There was a short silence. Angel cleared his throat. "I want you to tell me your sins. To confess. It'll help, help you understand them, help you forget or resolve them."

"And you'll punish me for them?"

"It'll be a release. And the part in you that understands the give and take, the warrior that understands that consequences have reactions, it will appease that."

"Twenty-one sins," she whispered.

"Twenty-two. And I know you've got that many. *Everybody* has that many."

"I have more," she whispered, holding back tears.

"Everybody has more," he soothed, "and you can tell me anything, you know that? Anytime."

"You should have been a priest," she said with a short laugh.

"The undead-creature-of-the-night thing kind of stands in the way of that," he said, smiling.

"You don't say," she laughed.

There was a pause, not awkward but not pleasant. Finally, Buffy swallowed the lump of tears and the pregnant fear twisted inside her and whispered, "I hated them when they brought me back."

Swiftly, Angel brought the broad wooden paddle down across her bottom. A spasm of pain shot through her, and she gasped as simultaneously a jerk of warmth rushed through her cunt.

"I wanted to die. I wanted to be away from here, to go back."

He brought it down again, harder. A tiny moan escaped her as pain seized up her ass and back, and moisture flooded her.

"I tried to kill myself."

He hit her again. She closed her eyes briefly with the simultaneous pain and pleasure, then opened them and continued. "All the time.

"A couple of times, straightforwardly.

"I tried to slit my wrists . . .

"But it hurt too much and I couldn't finish it.

"I took pills . . .

"But I threw them up.

"I tried to drown myself . . .

"But I remembered the first time, and I got scared.

"And then, when I wasn't doing that, I worked myself to the breaking point, all night, hunting, no sleep, no feeling . . . trying to kill myself."

With each declaration, he slammed the paddle home across her tight bottom. By the last, tears were streaming down her face from pain, guilt, and denied longing.

She sniffled and continued.

"And now, I'm completely distant, pulling myself away from everyone who loves me."

He swung the paddle again, bringing it down hard. She choked on a sob, took a moment to gasp for air, and continued with her confessional.

"I'm not there for Willow, or Xander, and they both need me; they're going through huge things in their lives and I can't be there for them.

"I'm not there for Dawn and I love her more than anything.

"I'm a bad mother, and I don't know how to make things right, how to help her."

The paddle came down three times, and she moaned, crying, her ass screaming and her clit throbbing.

"And Spike . . ." she sobbed. "I don't know why I let him do those things to me."

She thought the blow for this sin might have come down particularly hard, but by this point she couldn't really tell.

"But I let him do them anyway."

Her tears for this spank were more from guilt than pain or the tension between her legs.

"He's everything I hate . . .

"But he's the only thing that makes me feel anything . . .

"And even then, I still feel dead inside."

On the third blow, she had to take one hand from the headboard to slap over her mouth so that her scream wouldn't wake Willow or Dawn. When she replaced it, she noticed her knuckles were stretched white and that her hands were still shaking.

"That's twenty-one," Angel whispered from somewhere behind her. It felt like a long way away. "One more."

She nodded numbly, acknowledging his words and finding some comfort in the movement. Sobbing, she whispered, "I don't think I'm getting any better."

He waited a beat and then brought the paddle down a final time, harder than the rest and sending her into another fit of tears and wetness, weeping at both ends. Unclenching her hands from the headboard, she sank to the bed, burying her face in a crooked arm, keeping her screaming bottom above any contact with the bed and trying to push away some of the hurting, throbbing in her clit.

After what seemed like a long time, she felt soft, warm around her. Angel, gently picking her up from the mattress and bringing her tiny body against his, observant and careful of the tender spots on her sobbing, trembling frame.

He ran his hand down one tear-streaked cheek, smoothed a tangle of blonde away from her face.

"We're only half done, lover," he whispered into her ear. Her body went taut.

"You said . . . twenty-two . . ." she moaned miserably, eyes glancing for the first time the paddle lying next to her, looking innocent and perfectly ordinary in the candlelight.

"There's something else in the box, pet."

She swallowed thickly. There was. She remembered now.

He lifted her up gently, placing her on her knees on the mattress. "Go get it for me, hmm?"

Obediently, she rose on shaky legs and walked agonizingly over to the chair, a mere three feet away but a horrid Trail of Tears march for her. She barely finished the return trip, and Angel had to take her into his arms and pick her up off the floor and onto the bed, her energy and will drained.

Holding her close, Angel took the other present from her and set her on her knees, one arm around her waist.

"Are you going to be able to stay like that? On your knees?"

She wet her salty lips and nodded once. "Yes."

He nodded in affirmation and handed her the knife. She looked down at the wicked long blade and swallowed something thick in her throat.

"I don't understand."

"We've been through your sins," he said softly, "the things that color you dark. Now we'll go through the things that make you light."

She looked down at the night, dubious.

He smiled a little when she didn't respond. "Anything."

"I don't want to die anymore," she whispered. "They . . . Warren and . . . never mind, but they tried to kill me, and I fought."

Keeping one hand around her waist to support her, Angel placed his other hand around the one Buffy was holding the knife with and drew it to his chest. Purposefully, meeting her eyes, he guided her hand till it pressed the tip of the blade against his pale bare chest, pressing down till a bead of dark appeared on the white surface, then drawing down in a small, straight line.

Her eyes widened. "What are you doing?" she asked breathlessly.

He didn't take his eyes from her. "Teaching you the give and take."

She nodded once, and he tightened the grip around her waist, drawing her a little closer. He dropped his grasp on her hand and slowly, fingers trailing her exposed skin, brought the other hand down in between her legs, putting his fingers up into her and stroking her throbbing warmth.

"My dreams, the ones of being buried alive . . . they're less."

He pinched her clitoris and she drew a long line of dark across his chest. She was the one that gasped.

"And the ones of Heaven. Hardly ever, anymore."

They both moaned this time, Angel with his hand working her now at a steady rhythm and droplets of blood coursing down his long pale torso, Buffy brandishing the reddening blade and growing faint of breath as her arousal grew.

"And I talked to Tara. I mean, I opened up to somebody about everything . . . my problems . . ."

Angel swallowed a cry of pain as she pressed the blade hard against his shoulder blade. She didn't bother, and he thrust his fingers harder up into her cavity.

"And I talked to you . . ."

Angel flinched, swallowed hard, blood welling up around a new wound. Buffy's eyes widened when she saw bone, then further when Angel increased the tempo.

"And I told Spike 'no'. I mean, I still . . . I want, but I am trying . . ."

He gasped, then cried out shortly. She brought the blade back, looked at it as if she didn't know what it was, and then back at him, all the while bucking her hips a little against his still constant petting.

"And I love -" she stopped. She was going to add to that, but it sounded like it was enough. She laughed shortly. Angel drew in a quick bite of air he didn't need, and she took his face in one hand, held it steady while she drew the blade back over his cheekbone. A long stream of tear mingled with the newly flowing blood, lightening it as it dripped from the hard line of his jawbone to her skin immediately below it. "I love," she repeated, taking the knife and scraping the pattern of a heart immediately above his. She brought her face down for a minute, kissed the reddened and already healing scratch, then drew up, kissed him full on the mouth, and drove the blade up to the hilt through his breast bone. He coughed painfully, wet, as she pulled her hand and the knife back. She dropped the knife, he buried his face against her, gasping and crying, and she went taut, crying out, as she came.

The sun didn't wake her. It didn't come into her room at all as it rose over Sunnydale; he had, of course, made sure of that when he'd come in.

Buffy woke of her own accord, stiff and sore and sticky from blood and tears and come. Angel was still lying next to her, sleeping quietly, covered with blood and tears and come just the same, and almost completely healed.

The stains were really the only testament that anything had happened, but they'd be gone soon.

Buffy rose, careful to not wake Angel, and draped her robe around her, planning on a shower. She kissed him softly, petted him when he moaned, stretched like a cat on a warm windowsill.

She smiled.

She felt like she might be getting better.

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