Penance

Penance

Vamps dusted, they walk through the tombstones back to Crawford Street. They are wary of each other. They need to be.

Buffy is rolling her stake through her fingers and humming tunelessly. Tonight she’s wearing doe-coloured pants and a black hoodie, the zipper pulled down to reveal the pale skin of her throat and the cross he’d given her months ago. Her hair is piled carelessly on top of her head, secured with a couple of little clips. It’s a look designed to drive him crazy. He half thinks she’s playing with him: knows how to drive him nuts with an innocent toss of her head, an inane quip, a smile.

“You’re more glowery than normal,” she says. “What’s the what?”

The what is her, obviously.

He isn’t going to even try to explain how difficult this is for him. Hell was easier.

*

At the mansion, Angel offers Buffy the shower. By the time she emerges from the bathroom, hair loose and damp, wearing one of the outfits she leaves here (just in case), he has already drank blood from his refrigerator and changed the sheets on his bed and retrieved the handcuffs from the drawer.

She stretches, limber as a cat, and crawls up onto the bed.

“What are you doing?” Angel asks.

Buffy looks at him and rolls her eyes.

“Um. It’s called sleeping.”

“Get off,” he says.

He knows his tone is stern.

Angel takes a step closer. And preternaturally quick, he has one slender wrist in the cuff before pulling her back to the bed’s foot post and fastening her other wrist in the other cuff, arms around the post.

“What the hell?” She’s miffed, clearly. “Angel!” She jerks the handcuffs and looks at him with shock and disbelief. Angel watches as those emotions are replaced with something else: doubt.

“Angel?” The lilt in her voice when she says his name almost has him digging in his pockets for the key.

But he can’t stop now. He needs her to understand who he is, what he is. When he first came back, she’d held him at arms length, careful to make her life seem busy and purposeful. But as the days passed, he became more and more aware of her longing looks, her silences, the words she didn’t say.

Now, here they were on the precipice. Again.

He needs to remind her of the danger they are in. The danger she’s in.

“Take these off,” she says, jerking her arms so hard, the bed shakes.

“I can’t do that.”

Angel understands that she is young. Had she been his contemporary, she’d have been married and a mother by now. But here, in this century, she is young. He needs to remember that as best he can.

He admires her now; her intoxicating combination of vulnerability and strength almost blinds him. She is leaning her head back against the post exposing, without realizing it, her long, unblemished throat. He is hard instantly.

Braless beneath her tank top, her breasts seem child-like. Her low-slung pants expose the sharp ridge of hipbone, the flat muscles of her stomach. He wants to touch her, but he resists.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Making a point.”

“I have a point I’d like to make,” she says. “Right through your heart,” she adds under her breath.

“Vampire. Remember?” he says.

“Thanks for the tip.”

Angel contemplates their situation. She is shackled and she is angry and perhaps even a little bit frightened, but beneath all of that Angel senses that she is curious, too. Buffy has touched the darkness; it calls to her. He knows this is true.

“Look, I’m not in the mood for this,” she says now, eyeing him warily.

He shrugs.

She jerks the cuffs again and winces as they bite into her bony wrists.

“Tell me what’s going on,” she says.

“Not in the mood for talking,” he replies. He steps closer, realizes too late that she can still kick him, which she does. The blow has little effect, though; her feet are bare and she can’t get any real leverage, restrained as she is.

He shakes his head. “It will only go badly for you if you do that again,” he whispers.

She drops her eyes and kicks again, aiming higher this time. He steps back easily.

“Stubborn.”

“Pissed off,” she says.

Angel slides the key for the handcuffs from his pocket and unhooks her wrist from one cuff. Momentarily satisfied with this, Buffy sighs in relief and Angel takes advantage, fastening the cuff to the post and then pulling her free arm to the other bedpost and securing it there, effectively stretching her arms in a T. Her back is facing him.

She twists her head to look back at him. He’s across the room, digging in a small chest. When he turns he’s holding a paddle.

“Great,” she says. “Table tennis. Although I have to tell you that my game will be lacking finesse.” She rattles the handcuffs for effect.

“Shhh,” he says coming to stand behind her. With great accuracy, he slaps her hard on the ass with the paddle.

“Angel!”

“Shhh.”

The paddle stings despite the clothes Buffy wears. At ten whacks, Angel stops. He comes closer, so close she’d be able to feel his breath on her moist neck if he actually had any.

“Are you going to be a good girl?”

His voice is foreign. He sounds…Buffy can’t quite put her finger on it. Not angry. Something more complicated than anger has made him this way. It is her nature to prattle on, but she knows instinctively that this is not the time. So she swallows her words and waits.

Angel’s hand snakes around her midriff and pulls her back against him. She feels it then: he’s aroused. Lack of experience makes her heart race with pride. Something else tells her she should be worried. Aroused is not a good thing for Angel.

“Angel,” she says.

“Shhh.”

She drops her head and watches his hand begin the journey from her belly to her breasts. He is inching his hand up so slowly that Buffy feels as though she might burst with anticipation. Just as his fingers reach the underside of her breast she jerks back against him, feels the ridge of his cock in the small of her back

“What are you doing?” She asks.

“I don’t know.” He steps back away from her.

“I don’t understand,” she says.

He’s close again, his voice a low, dark murmur in her ear.

“I don’t think about anything else, Buffy. You come here; you talk about your day, we patrol and it’s all supposed to be…”

“What?” she whispers.

His hands are on her again, palms sliding over her breasts. She feels the ridges of his pronounced brow, his game-face as she likes to think of it, against her neck.

“Do it,” she whispers.

He hesitates, scrapes one elongated tooth against her and then draws back, watches the blood bead where he has broken the skin.

She is whimpering.

“I’ll never bite you,” he says. “But it’s all I think about on bad days.”

Buffy twists her head to look at him.

“Angel…”

“There’s a line, Buffy, and we can’t cross it,” he says.

“Maybe we don’t have to,” she says. “Take these off.” She rattles the handcuffs.

Angel doesn’t hesitate. He reaches in his pocket for the key and releases Buffy from the cuffs. She rubs her wrists, one after the other, and then climbs up onto the bed.

“Tell me what you want,” she says.

“What?”

“What you want. I’ll do…anything to make you feel not so…however it is that you’re feeling.”

He shakes his head.

“Angel. We need to find a way to be together without it driving us both crazy.”

Angel lowers his eyes.

“Please.”

He contemplates the choices. He slips off his shirt and then picks up the cuffs.

“Cuff me,” he says.

She stretches his long, muscled arms between the two posts and fastens him exactly as she had been restrained only moments ago.

“In the box, over there,” he motions with his head, “there’s a whip. Get it.”

Buffy blinks.

“Get it.”

There’s more than whips in the box, but Buffy doesn’t bother to examine its contents too carefully for fear she might lose her nerve.

“Now whip me.”

“Angel.”

“You said you wanted to help. This is how you can help.”

She draws her hand back and sends the leather of the whip whistling through the air to land against Angel’s broad, pale back. The Gryphon ripples as his shoulders contract.

“Harder.”

“I…”

“Can’t or won’t?” He asks.

Buffy looks down at the whip and then up at Angel’s back, at the thin red welt which has dissected his perfect skin; a road to somewhere she has never been, but Angel most certainly has traveled.

She brings her arm up again and watches the whip lash him. She counts each stinging slap, watches the lines map a strange and terrible geography on his back.

“Come here,” he says.

She drops the whip, rotates her numb arm and moves to stand behind him.

“Touch me,” he says.

She puts her hands flat against his skin; despite her best efforts she has hardly broken his skin, but his flesh is warm and she can trace the lines she has made with the tip of her finger. She leans forward, kisses the tattoo.

“No,” he hisses.

“What?”

“I don’t deserve your kindness.”

She considers the truth in this statement.

“Come around; get on the bed in front of me.”

Buffy obeys, sits on the bed with her legs folded beneath her.

“Do you touch yourself, Buffy,” he asks, “at night, alone in your room?”

Buffy feels the heat of his question in her cheeks and crotch. She can’t lie to him; he’d know.

“What do you think about?”

“You.” No point in denying it.

He smiles a little. “I think about you, too,” he says. “Come closer.”

Buffy crawls over to him on her knees.

“Kiss me,” he says and she does.

*

“This isn’t going to be easy,” he says to her. Her head is cradled against his shoulder.

“We can do it, though, right?”

He doesn’t know if they can but now, at this moment, he feels there is only one answer that she can bear to hear. So he lies.

“Yes.”

The End

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