Buffy woke groggy and aching. Opening her eyes, she found herself curled on her side on rocky ground. A scent came to her--familiar, making her nose itch. As she tried to rise, dizziness assailed her and she saw the fire a foot from her.
She couldn't feel the heat.
Memories came back in a rush. Acathla, the fight with Angelus, the portal opening, the sword sliding easily into his gut.
Angelus' hand on the sword, yanking her towards him.
Then pain and darkness.
Twisting her head, she found him crouched beside her, the sword in his hand, the front of his shirt bloody. Their eyes met for a moment, then Buffy closed hers in defeat, waiting for the blade to end her life.
When it didn't happen, she peeked from beneath her lashes in confusion. Angelus' attention was no longer on her, drawn by something in the distance, and, Buffy forced herself to her knees, wincing at the scrapes on the palms of her hands from the rocks, and those poking into her legs. Ignoring the pain, she looked around and fear filled her.
"Where are we?"
"Fire, brimstone, ugly ass demons in the distance, where do you think?" came the darkly amused response. Angelus bounced to his feet, then reached down and hauled her up with him. "You ruined my favorite shirt, Buff, but the wound's all healed. Should have gone for the heart." Before she could pull free of him, he crushed her lips beneath him in a hard, fast kiss, then sent her spinning away from him.
As she righted herself, she watched him shoulder the sword and walk away.
Was that a city in the distance?
Buffy refused to believe what her senses were telling her, but she also wasn't about to let him leave her here. Since Angelus didn't seem intent on killing her right away, she'd go with him warily.
And he had the sword.
"Where are we?" she demanded again when she caught up to him.
She frowned. "So not California. Not even the desert." The fact that the sky was red with roiling black clouds, yet there was plenty of light to see, finally made an impression on her and a trickle of the truth made its way past her denial.
"My demon is home. It's calming it." Angelus flipped her a cheerful smile that sent a shiver of horror through her. "It's why I'm not slaughtering you. Don't need to. I'm home."
"Damn it, Angel!"
"Y'know, I wonder if soul boy is here somewhere. He wasn't a very good person. I doubt heaven would have wanted him. He tortured me for a century. Maybe I'll find him and return the favor."
They crested a hill and found a road lined with bones before them. Stepping over a skull--obviously human--Buffy made a face and looked down the road towards what was definitely a city, its outline visible despite the distance. A screech sounded above her, and she darted her eyes towards the noise. A large flying skeleton swooped down at her, and she ducked. It ignored Angelus.
"What the hell is that?"
"I have no clue. It doesn't seem to be interested in eating me so I don't really care, either."
When it swooped again, jaws lined with massive teeth opening in menace, Buffy shoved Angelus towards it and it clipped his shoulder sending the sword spinning free. Picking it up, she waited for its next dive, ignoring Angelus' anger at her and the monster, then hacked off its head. She ducked the cascade of bones, smirking as a large leg bone bounced off Angelus' thick head, making him howl.
"Give me the sword."
Buffy waved it at him. "I don't think so." She strode down the road, only glancing up when he joined her, tenderly feeling the bump on his head. "So, you think this is Hell."
"I don't think it. It's obvious." He explained it to her like she was a two year old. "Acathla's portal was to bring Hell to Earth, therefore it was a connection to Hell. We went through it. Ergo, we're in Hell."
Buffy let that sink in then frowned again. "But, where are all the suffering people?"
"Obviously not here."
"How...big is Hell?"
"You finally believe me?"
Swallowing hard, she nodded, but was still very confused. "And isn't it supposed to be hot?"
"Since I don't have any of those answers, why don't you save the annoying questions for when we reach the city."
At his snide comment, Buffy stopped walking, her whole body freezing with sudden fear. This was Hell!
Realizing she'd stopped, Angelus turned back and glared at her. "What?"
"They'll kill me," she mumbled numbly, "Or, if I'm already dead, torture me and kill me. I'm the Slayer. I'm not supposed to be here." Her voice rose as panic set in, and she turned to flee, only to be caught in Angelus' strong arms.
Her breath lodged firmly in her throat as he bent down and murmured, "I won't let anyone hurt you," in her ear.
The incongruity of his promise sent the panic out of her and she turned in his arms, looking up at him in confusion.
"I told you, the demon has calmed." One of his hands cupped her cheek before she could flinch away. "I blamed you for freeing me when I should have been thanking you. You're the Slayer. Your touch didn't taint me. I finally realize that. Here, you have no choice but to be mine." This time the kiss wasn't bruising or quick, but hungry, stirring something in Buffy she'd denied for months.
That his touch was still Angel's.
When he released her, she gave him back the sword, and they continued down the road in silence, Buffy letting her troubled thoughts fill her head. She was very afraid he was right. She was going to need him to survive.
The first sign of habitation was a scattering of huts still some distance from the city. From the window of one a woman looked out, human in appearance except for black eyes with no pupils. Buffy edged closer to Angelus and glanced at him. He looked serene and that disturbed her. A noise broke her from her thoughts and she turned her eyes toward it. A group of children were playing ball with a human head. Blanching, she realized that these weren't really children, at least not human children, even though they looked human.
"Why do they look human?" she whispered to Angelus.
"No clue. Would you prefer horns and scales?"
"Dunno. At least that's honest."
He laughed harshly. "There's nothing honest in Hell, Buffy."
"I've got to get out of here," she muttered under her breath.
"Yeah, there have been so many escapes from Hell, it's got a revolving door."
Glaring at his sarcasm, Buffy picked up her pace, putting as much distance between the demonic children and herself. She felt Angelus jog up to her side but ignored him, her mind full of questions. As they passed through another small village, her attention was drawn to a plowed field behind the huts.
Realizing what was growing in the field made her blanch and her stomach lurch in revolt.
Alive and beating.
"Oh, god, I really have to get out of here."
"Probably not a bright idea to mention that particular being around here."
"Does that mean there's a Satan?"
Angelus shrugged. "Why do you think I have all the answers to your inane questions?"
"You're a demon."
"Yeah, and I've been on Earth possessing this body for two and a half centuries, and the process of possession basically wiped most of the demon's memories. This may not even be the hell I come from. Hell, it may not be the real Hell."
"How many are there?" she asked in a small voice, her eyes darting around for the next threat.
Cresting a hill they found a group of demons, some human in form, some not, hanging around a rusted metal sign. Their chatter stopped and every eye turned to glare at Buffy.
"What are you waiting for?" Angelus asked cheerfully.
A large pink horned demon dragged his eyes from the Slayer and scowled at the vampire. "It's a bus stop. Take a guess, genius."
"The bus going to the city?"
"All buses go to Dis," a delicate blue female said, as she sidled up to Angelus. "My…you're a big one. Blood drinker?"
"We don't get many of those in their human forms down here. Most are forced back into their demonic ones after their shells turn to dust." Pretty purple eyes full of loathing zinged back to Buffy. "Why is SHE here?"
"I dragged her here with me. She's mine." The smile remained on Angelus' voice but his eyes turned hard as granite.
Buffy didn't argue with his claim, just unconsciously moved closer to him.
"Slayers aren't exactly popular or common around here."
"She's unique, no matter the circumstances."
"Owned by a vampire? I should say." The female demon gave him a seductive smile and placed one slender hand on his bicep. "It will be interesting to see if you can keep her. If you're even allowed to keep her."
"Who would object?"
Her laughter was equivalent to the sound of broken glass and dull bells and Buffy winced, then turned as the sound of a motor approached.
A bus--it had to be--trundled down the hill towards them. It was constructed of bones, bones that groaned and softly wailed.
It was alive.
"I…can't…" she stammered, backing away from it as it came to a halt.
Frowning at her, Angelus grabbed her elbow and jerked her towards the open door of the horrific vehicle. "Get on."
"So? Get used to it." He shoved her forward until she had no choice but to grab the dry bone door. Tears stung her eyes but she knew that she couldn't show any weakness before any of the demons watching her so closely. Swallowing hard, she climbed the two stairs, trying to tune out the groans and moans, and gingerly sat in the first empty seat. Angelus pushed her over with his hip as he joined her, resting the sword tip down between his legs.
"It…it smells like…" Buffy whispered, trying to touch as little of the bus as possible.
"Calcium dust. Familiar, huh?" Angelus turned a nasty smirk on her and she flinched away from him, turning her head to stare out the window.
The bus resumed its journey and quickly passed through two larger villages, stopping at each one to let off and take on passengers. Finally it pulled up to an imposing gatehouse and raised drawbridge. The driver called out "The City of Dis. All out for Dis. Be ready to prove you deserve to be here."
Only two demons exited until Angelus tugged Buffy off the bus. She watched the vehicle turn at a left angle and drive along the moat of blood, making no attempt to enter the city. In front of them, the two other demons were handing over scrolls and leather booklets to the ten foot tall ebony furred demons. The first bus passenger was allowed to enter the city--the drawbridge came down with a soft crunch and he skittered across it, clutching his papers to his chest.
The guards apparently took exception to the other demon--a tall, gangly humanoid with red hair and red eyes--and beheaded him, kicking his screaming remains into the bloody pit.
"I smell goodness," the demon who had done the kicking, growled, nose in the air and aimed right at Buffy.
"Tainted, tarnished," the other added, eyes narrowing in calculation. "And a vampire," it sneered, not even looking at Angelus.
"A Slayer, here?" Surprise colored both their voices as the exclaimed the truth together, and the first raised his sword to Buffy's chin. "Killer of our kind."
"No, brother. He will want to see such an oddity. So rare, it hasn't happened in a dozen millennia. Perhaps it will ease our Lord's boredom."
"And you think he will reward us? What if she irks him and he decides to torture us for the next dozen millennia?"
The second demon shrugged and grinned evilly. "And that would be bad why?"
They laughed together, a grating, harsh noise, then brought the drawbridge down again and handed Angelus a scroll.
"You would never gain entrance to Dis on your own, vampire. There's little of interest in you. But, her…Yes, her presence will alleviate the ennui…or so we hope."
"Go to the palace," the first demon directed as he sheathed his sword.
Grabbing Buffy's arm again, Angelus got her moving across the drawbridge before the demons could think about raising it again.
"Palace?" she hissed, shaking him off and entering the city at his side. "What's going on here?"
Angelus ignored her and started down the busy street towards the palace on the highest point. Again, the demons stopped whatever they were doing and stared at the Slayer but no one approached them.
Buffy found the city surprisingly normal, like she'd imagined a medieval village to be. Shops and markets, people bustling about, dogs barking, horse drawn carts being led through the narrow, twisting streets. Those streets were cobblestone, the houses and buildings were substantial of wood and stone. Only the creatures inhabiting the city betrayed that this wasn't Earth, though most had a human form, and it was only something subtle and nebulous that reminded her they were demons.
She stayed close to Angelus, tried not to gawk like a tourist, and refused to let the fear bubbling in her stomach overwhelm her.
They reached the gates to the gleaming marble palace without anyone trying to stop them and Angelus handed over the scroll to a guard, whose four eyes widened, then he returned the scroll, asked for the sword which Angelus reluctantly gave him, then gestured for them to proceed. After they passed through a garden of purple black roses, they reached the door which opened to reveal a butler.
A real butler--black coat with tails, starched white shirt, silk bow tie, the works, including the nose in the air.
"A Slayer. How…unusual." He gestured for them to proceed him into the palace and they entered and followed him down the most gorgeous hallway Buffy had ever seen. The walls were decorated with beautiful paintings, the floors were marble, the ceilings painted, and gilt decorating everything. They entered a small room with ice blue satin couches and inlaid wood tables, and the butler spoke again. "You, vampire, will remain here. Slayer, you will come with me."
"She doesn't leave my sight."
The butler simply snickered and arched his eyebrows, cowing them both. "Do you know where you are?"
"No," Angelus blustered.
"You will." The butler left the room and, after giving Angelus a helpless look, Buffy followed him, her curiosity overcoming any fear of separation.
After walking down another hallway and through two rooms where demons mingled, giving her curious looks, the butler rapped on a set of closed, painted doors, then pushed them open and stood back for her to enter. She did so, and the doors closed behind her, making her jump.
The room was large and mostly empty. Ringed with white marble columns, the floor a checkerboard of black and white, the only pieces of furniture were a grand piano in one corner and a gold and red draped throne on a raised platform at the far end.
On that throne sat a being--male in form, absolutely beautiful, wearing only a white silk loincloth that showed off chiseled golden abs and pecs and every other muscle. Buffy's breath caught in her throat and she couldn't help but stare. He was perfect.
And when he stood and his wings spread wide, she nearly fainted.
He was in front of her before she could take another breath and her heart pounded in her chest as the fear mingled with wonder, and an instinctive knowledge filled her. Bravely she lifted her eyes to his and nearly drowned in their depths until, with a cry of shock, she pulled her gaze away and half-turned from him.
His voice rolled over her like a gentle wave, soothing and arousing and beckoning her, and she found herself turning back, lifting her eyes again, a part of her wanting to drown.
"A Slayer in my kingdom. One of His warriors here, yet…I sense no evil in you, no sins so rotten to have committed you here. A foolish child to venture here on your own."
"I'm…I'm not alone," Buffy managed to stammer, her lips and mouth bone dry, goose bumps rising on uncovered skin.
He looked amused. "Yes, the vampire, formerly souled. Slightly interesting in his own right, but more because of you, Buffy Summers. You who destroyed and renewed him. Your love brought down a champion of the light. Does that pain you?"
She stared wordlessly at him and he chuckled, one quick sound.
"Equally foolish to enter here as you have, whole in body and soul. How long will they last? The vampire at least can find sustenance, but you?" He lifted a hand, cupped her chin, and Buffy felt her knees go weak and wet heat flood her. "What will you do for my protection and care, Slayer?"
Laughing more fully at her bravado, he released her and she forced herself not to step back or collapse at his feet. She was trembling all over from fear and desire and deep confusion.
"The stories of your appearance spread through my kingdom like wildfire, accompanied by a healthy dose of fear. Slayers are, after all, the nightmares demons warn their little ones about. It will be interesting to see if you rise or fall here and what you will do, what you will compromise to do either. The guards were correct to send you through to me. You should entertain me for a few of the endless days."
"What about Angelus?"
A look of curiosity crossed his face. "You care what happens to the vampire?"
"He's…all I have here. He brought me here, maybe he can get me out."
"Hope…a concept long lost in this place of desolation. All right, he may stay with you, be given the advantages I give you. Your consort."
Buffy finally got brave enough to ask the one question she was sure she knew the answer to. "Who are you?"
"I would have thought that was obvious. Ah…you need confirmation." He nodded and his wings flapped sending the scent of jasmine and bergamot to her. "I rule here in Hell, as I have since I fell. I am Lucifer Morningstar, the Light Bringer."
Swallowing hard, Buffy let the shock hit her, but after a minute she rallied. "Then, this is really Hell, the Hell of the Bible?"
Lucifer shrugged. "It is what it is, Buffy Summers. You will discover that in time." He stepped back. "I shall have my major domo prepare a suite of rooms for you and your consort, provide you with food and drink. You will consider yourselves my honored guests…until I become bored with you. Once that happens, you are on your own and open prey. If you have the strength and skill, by that time you will have made such a name for yourself and carved out your own place, that no demon but the most foolish will openly challenge you."
"I'll be gone long before that happens."
His laugh sent shivers through her. "No one escapes from Hell, not even me." Turning his back on her, Lucifer dismissed her with a flick of his wings, and Buffy walked on shaking legs back out of the room.
Buffy was shown to an elegantly appointed suite of rooms where Angelus waited for her, lounging on a green brocade sofa, drinking from a gold goblet. On a table was spread an array of food--meats, bread, cheese, fruit, and a pitcher of ice water.
Ice water in Hell.
On the walk up to these rooms Buffy had realized she had two choices--accept and survive, or go insane.
As she poured herself a glass of water, she knew that acceptance was the only way she could go.
"So, you put out for the lord high muckety muck and get us these digs?"
She glared at Angelus and popped a grape in her mouth--it was the sweetest grape she'd ever tasted. "I amused him."
"That's surprising. Mostly you bore me."
Rolling her eyes at him, she sat down at the table and put together a sandwich. "We're under his protection for now. Find us a way out of here."
"Why would I want to leave?"
"What are you here? A human shell infected by a demon that barely knows what it is." She was pleased to see her sarcasm wipe the smug look from his face. "I'm at least an oddity. Vampires--half-breeds--can't be all that interesting in Hell."
Angelus scowled. "So, this is really Hell?"
Buffy nodded and took a bite of her sandwich. "The real one."
'Yeah, I finally remembered where I'd heard the name Dis. Read it, actually, or the poof did. Dante's Inferno. It's Satan's city where the lower circles of Hell are located."
"I haven't seen any circles, but I met him. Lucifer." She managed to surprise him, and as he choked on his blood, she grinned in delight. "Wings and all."
Angelus was nowhere near gentleman enough to give up the bedroom to her, so Buffy wrapped a soft blanket around herself and curled up on the couch. Despite the exhaustion that had been creeping over her since their arrival, she wasn't sure she could sleep.
She wasn't sure if it was safe, and she didn't trust Angelus as far as she could throw him. He, on the other hand, seemed to trust her completely. It would be so easy to creep into the bedroom and shove a stake through his heart.
And, yet, she couldn't do it. Privately she wasn't convinced that he could help her get out of here, but he was all she had that was familiar, and he was being nicer to her. At least, he wasn't trying to kill her every five seconds.
Which led to more confusion because if they weren't predator and prey, just what were they? And would the attraction that had never disappeared, at least for her, grow into something more?
With a jumble of confused thoughts whirling in her head, Buffy finally drifted to sleep, her last thought the hope that she wouldn't wake up in her own bed, safe and sound.
She didn't. Hell was her reality, as was Angelus' presence. She awoke to find him sitting across from her, staring at her from those penetrating, gorgeous brown eyes. Flushing, Buffy struggled to sit up, patting her hair down, hoping that there was minty fresh toothpaste in Hell.
Ignoring her companion as best she could, she went past him into the bedroom and discovered that Hell did have bathrooms with hot and cold running water, lavender scented soap and shampoo, toothpaste, and an array of gorgeous dresses from lightweight muslins to heavy satin and velvet brocades. After a quick shower, she dressed in a pale purple cotton gown over several petticoats. It had long sleeves that puffed out at the shoulders, a heart-shaped bodice, and fit her perfectly. There were matching purple slippers, and a white lace shawl to complete the outfit, which she put on after she blew dry her hair with the completely out of place electric hair-dryer.
Exiting the bathroom, Buffy nearly tripped over her own feet at the sight of Angelus, naked, his back turned to her revealing that gorgeous, firm ass, his skin pale all over and lightly haired. He scowled over his shoulder at her, then stepped into a pair of navy breeches.
"I was so damn happy when someone invented trousers and we did away with these blasted things."
As he smoothed on white stockings and added a crisp white ruffled shirt, Buffy silently admired how natural he looked in that outfit, despite his protests. "At least you don't have to wear a corset."
Angelus eyed her with some interest, his attention falling well below her face, and she flushed. "Yeah, you have tits now."
Shooting him an angry glare, she flounced out of the room.
Angelus caught up to her at the top of a broad set of stairs and took her arm, dragging it up and around his. "You really should stick close to me," he murmured in her ear.
"Actually, I think you're supposed to be under my protection," she replied snippily.
Glowering at each other, they descended the stairs and were directed by a footman into a dining room full of demons in various guises, eating various foods. Buffy felt her stomach turn at the sight of raw flesh and blood--obviously human--and tried to ignore the feasting. A moment of silence fell as all eyes turned to them, then the noise and eating resumed. Buffy wondered briefly who they all were, but then mentally shrugged. She didn't plan to be here long enough to make acquaintances or enemies.
There was food fit for her consumption waiting at the head of the table, and she sat and started to eat, ignoring Angelus who took the seat next to her and immediately began to make friends.
"So, you're the Slayer the palace is abuzz about."
Buffy looked up to find the seat on the other side of her now occupied by a rather pretty pale green woman with red hair and darker green eyes. She wore a dress similar to Buffy's, yet in a deep rose color, the skirt decorated with stripes of ivory satin. There was a calculated smile on her face as she delicately sipped from a cup of what looked like tea.
"I guess I am."
"We don't often get live humans here. You'll be a novelty...for a while. I'm Verlinka, Baroness of Gorsheim, none of which means anything to you, of course, but I'm willing to take you under my wing, introduce you around, enlighten you on every aspect of Court life. It will ease the tedium."
"Is everyone bored around here?"
Surprise crossed Verlinka's face, then the smile returned. "Of course. We exist for eternity. It's very, very difficult if nigh on impossible to kill a demon in Hell. And so we fill the time with whatever takes our fancy. Currently that is you." She turned appraising eyes on Angelus. "And your rather buff companion. Do you share?"
Buffy choked on her coffee. "You're welcome to him."
Laughing, Verlinka winked at Angelus who gave her a startled look, as he'd been caught up in discussion of an upcoming hunt and not paying the women any attention. "Delightful. I may take you up on that offer. My current lover has begun to bore me to tears."
Curiosity got the better of Buffy's silent decision to stay as removed from all of this as possible. "Why do so many of you look human?"
"That's the current trend, as well as dressing like this and holding balls and soirees. Soon enough we'll all be wearing suits of bone and holding gladiatorial contests, or going naked in our natural forms and copulating in the streets. We go where the whim takes us, nominally directed by Lord Lucifer, of course."
"He...doesn't join you at meals?"
"Oh, no. He mostly keeps himself aloof from all of us, he and his fellow Fallen. We are demons, bred here, occasionally venturing onto the mortal planes, but never knowing the Celestial City or the Plains of Heaven. He has experienced it all. And while we revel in our Hell, he finds it most disappointing."
"Do you all live here?"
"Some of us. Some of us simply stay at the palace when we're in the city. I have vast estates on the Plains of Delhim, two days journey away, but I spend most of my time here. Infinitely more entertaining. Lord Lucifer tolerates our presence. I believe our current attempt at recreating a period of mortal time amuses him."
Angelus got her attention with a curt, "Hey, babe," and as she glared at him, he continued with a smirk on his face, "These guys are taking me out on a hunt. You won't get into any trouble while I'm gone, will you?"
"I'll behave." For now, she silently added, as he rose and headed out with a band of male demons, all making crude comments as males of any species tended to do.
"Would you like me to show you around the palace, introduce you to some of my friends?"
Buffy turned her attention back to Verlinka and, while a large part of her would like to bury her head in the sand and ignore all this, her logical side knew she had to fit in somehow or something would creep up on her and kill her. She wasn't totally sure if she could die here, or what the rules governing live humans were, but she needed to learn them. "Okay."
Verlinka smiled. "Good. I know this must be very hard for you, every instinct is screaming to kill me, but your life here doesn't have to be difficult."
"I'm not good at compromise."
And learn she did. For the first several days Buffy mostly kept her mouth closed and her eyes open. She met the high rollers of Hell--most of whom were quite wary of her--mingled with society, attended dances, dinners, and card parties, even one night an opera. She was friendly if a bit aloof, and didn't really fit in, but that didn't bother her.
On the other hand, Angelus fit in brilliantly, despite his lowly status of half-breed. Her position as a favorite of Lord Lucifer's spilled over onto him and he attended all the functions at her side, and also enjoyed the seamier side of Dis--the arena fights, the high stake gambling, the horse racing, the brothels.
Still, when they were together, Buffy always felt his eyes on her. He never made a move on her either violently or sexually, but he watched her. And that worried her.
As time passed--a nebulous construct at best--Buffy began to worry also that she was becoming too used to this place and Hell's society, and her thoughts turned more firmly to escape. Long since giving up on the thought of Angelus helping her, she began to spend time in Lucifer's vast library, studying the maps of Hell, learning the best routes to the gates, and plotting when and where to make the first attempt.
Tonight was her first formal ball and Buffy watched in the mirror as the maid assigned to her laced her into her white satin gown encrusted with purple jewels and ribbons. Her hair was in some kind of elaborate curly thing on her head, entwined with matching ribbons, and she had purple satin slippers on her feet. Angelus was dressed in formal black, lounging in their sitting room impatiently waiting for her.
As she smoothed the dress down and tried to breathe, the maid presented her with a black leather box. "From my Lord."
Buffy frowned slightly and opened the box. Inside was a diamond necklace with a tear drop amethyst the size of her thumb, and a matching pair of earrings. She hadn't seen Lucifer since that initial meeting, but she wondered if he'd been watching her, and what his interest was in her. He was definitely the most frightening thing she'd encountered here.
She let the maid drape her in the jewels, their weight feeling slightly ominous against her skin, then exited the bedroom to join Angelus who jumped to his feet.
"Nice rocks." He frowned, though, as he took her arm and led her out of the room.
"A gift from the Devil."
"You know he's not that."
"I still can't get used to that. I grew up believing that Lucifer and Satan were the same thing."
"Just don't refer to him as the Devil or we'll find ourselves spitted and roasted and I'm really growing to like this place."
"You would," she replied sourly.
"Still holding out hope for escape?" was his facetious retort.
Angelus rolled his eyes at her and led her down the grand staircase. At the entrance to the ballroom they were announced by a footman and entered with all eyes upon them. Music was playing--a waltz--and Angelus guided her out onto the dance floor where he turned her into his arms. "Try not to step on my toes," he chuckled lightly.
"I'm not the one with the huge feet," was her caustic answer as she allowed him to lead her in the dance. She'd never waltzed before, but Verlinka had given her a couple of lessons in between dress fittings and tea parties, so she felt confident enough in her dancing ability. To her surprise, Angelus was an amazing dancer, but then Angel had always been very graceful.
When the dance ended, the music stopped, replaced by the sound of trumpets, and she and Angelus turned with the rest towards the stairs to watch Lucifer make his entrance. Unlike the rest of the company who were dressed in clothes harkening back to the eighteenth century, he wore a black tuxedo, his wings folded neatly at his back. As he joined the parted throng on the floor, he nodded to a few demons, but mostly ignored everyone, until he reached Buffy and Angelus.
A flick of his wrist towards the musicians and they started playing again, then he held out that hand to Buffy.
Buffy swallowed hard, afraid to let him touch her, but, knowing she had no choice, reached out her trembling hand and took his.
His touch was like molten ice, sending shivers over her head and down her spine and heat between her legs. Nearly stumbling from the force of sudden desire and terror, she found herself in his arms, moving to the music, caught up in his seduction.
No one else moved onto the dance floor, ceding it to them, as they spun in ever widening circles.
She felt his eyes on her, but couldn't bear to raise her own to him, instead focusing her attention on his bow tie.
"Do you fear me?" Lucifer murmured, his silky voice sending fresh trembling through her.
"Of all the creatures here, I am the last who would cause you hurt. I have no desire, no plans to harm you. When I grow bored with you I shall simply withdraw my favor."
"That's not what I'm afraid of," she ground out, swallowing convulsively. The dance moved them closer and when her breasts brushed against his chest, her nipples hardened and began to ache.
"No, death rarely frightens a Slayer. It is said they often crave its company. So, you fear I have ulterior motives? That I wish to claim you for my bed?"
At the amusement in his voice, she finally found the courage to look up and nearly drowned in the depths of his silvery eyes before choking out, "Yes."
"Those were never my desires, Buffy Summers. I wished freedom from my father's heavy hand, equal status with those He loved so much, to rule at His right hand as had been promised to me. Those are my desires. Flesh does not concern me." He glanced away and a near smile hovered on his lips. "Though I do believe your vampire thinks it so. He is quite possessive of you."
"...What?" Confused, she turned her head enough to spy Angelus staring at them, anger and...was that jealousy? in his eyes and in the clench of his fists. "I'm not his," she declared passionately. "I don't even like him. Angel, his soul, was the one I loved."
"But was his soul the only one who loved you?" With that question, Lucifer brought their dance to a halt in front of Angelus and took her hand. The brush of his lips against her palm burned her skin and she gasped softly, then found herself in Angelus' arms as Lucifer walked off and the music resumed.
"That fop won't have you," he growled, hands gripping her upper arms, eyes burning into hers.
Buffy stared up at him in surprise, then laughed and pulled away from him. "And you think you will?" Turning her back on him, she spied Verlinka and some of the other female demons who had become her acquaintances during her stay in Hell, and went over to them, effectively dismissing the seething vampire.
She made her first escape attempt that night, dressed again in her own clothes, the sword tucked into her belt. Taking the bus to the way station at Axioma, ignoring the demons who looked at her with wary interest, she followed a map she'd found in Lucifer's library and made her way to one of the seven gates.
Three days later she was dragged bleeding and exhausted before Lucifer's throne and flung to her knees. Her shattered sword clanged onto the marble next to her and she panted harshly, eyes down, trying to ready herself.
Lucifer dismissed the guards who had caught her--those who had survived the two days of attacks on the gate--and rose to stand over her. "I wondered how long it would be until you tried."
"I had to," Buffy ground out, pressing her fists to the floor, leaving bloody knuckle marks behind as she forced her aching body to its feet. Swaying before him, she looked up into those amused eyes and gritted her teeth as they pulled at her.
"If you had gained the other side, what did you expect to find? It's not Heaven out there. It's certainly not your Earth. There is no escape, Buffy Summers. The gates don't lead out."
"I don't belong here," she replied as strongly as she could muster. "I wasn't condemned here."
The amusement left his eyes and she flinched back at the cold emanating from him. "I shouldn't have been either, but we condemned ourselves with our own actions."
"Angelus dragged me here!"
"And he opened the portal because you were too weak and too lovesick to stop him, not just then, but at myriad points in time. Before he killed your teacher. Before he tortured hundreds of souls. When you first discovered he'd lost his own. Since that moment, the deaths, his sins, rest with you as well as him. Wouldn't they condemn you?"
"Do you think I don't feel guilty about any of that?"
"I relish the guilt you suffer, Buffy Summers." His smile froze her to the bone. "It punishes you better than I ever could. There is no escape from Hell. I told you this on our first meeting. But, keep trying. It both amuses me and increases your reputation as someone with whom no one should trifle." He caught her defiant chin in the cup of one hand, his fingers both burning and soothing the flesh of her cheeks as she glared up at him. "You no longer fear me."
His smile increased. "Good. I have watched you since your arrival at my Court, how you have mingled in society, how you have made, if not friends, companions, how you have learned to fit in despite never truly doing so, and make a place for yourself. But, mostly I have seen how you hate everything and everyone here. They don't see it. Too caught up in their own pitiful existences, they find you amusing or annoying or frightening--though they'd be loathe to admit the latter--but most have come to accept your presence here. Yes, many hope that when I step away, they will be the one to bring you down, but they don't see what I do. You, Buffy Summers, are stronger than all of them."
"I don't feel strong," she whispered, her voice dull with fatigue.
"It's there, at your core. It's what makes you the Slayer. It's what makes you human, something very unique here, despite the million of tortured souls." Releasing her, he stepped back. "But, physically you are exhausted. Go to your vampire, Buffy Summers. He has been quite concerned about you. So much so that he attempted to breach my throne room to confront me" With a chuckle at that memory, Lucifer turned, dismissing her, and Buffy dragged herself out of the room.
She had barely reached the door to her suite when it was yanked open and she was jerked into Angelus' arms. Struggling feebly she babbled, "Wha...? Huh? Stop it!" and finally pulled free of him.
"Don't ever do that again!" he yelled, reaching for her again, though this time she evaded him and pushed past him into the sitting room. "You could have been killed."
"So?" She really was too tired for this confrontation and completely baffled as to why he would care--easily ignoring Lucifer's claims concerning Angelus' feelings for her.
Slamming the door behind her, he stalked across the room after her and glared down at her when she collapsed on a sofa. "So? What the fuck? You disappear for three days and the first report is of a massive body count at one of the gates and you ask 'so'?"
If she wasn't so tired, she'd snicker at his attitude, but instead she sighed and closed her drooping eyes. "Go away."
"Not on your idiotic, trying to throw it away, life, Buffy Summers."
Heat flooded her cheeks and she snapped, "Don't call me that." Opening her eyes, she glowered up at him.
"How about I call you stupid bitch instead?"
"How about you go to Hell."
Angelus snorted at the stupidity of that statement, then grabbed one arm and yanked her up and over his shoulder. As she yelled and kicked and beat on his back, he toted her into the bedroom and dumped her on the bed. "You stink."
"Later," he slammed back with a nasty smirk on his face, making her blush even deeper.
When he stomped back out of the room, she watched him with anger, frustration and confusion on her face.
The following day the demons, even those she'd become friendly with, eyed her with a mixture of trepidation and respect, most keeping their distance. After breakfast, Buffy headed to the stables and a scheduled ride with Verlinka and another young demoness, Sumaki, and found both of them waiting for her as grooms saddled their mounts.
Verlinka turned an arched eyebrow on the Slayer as she slid her hands into kidskin gloves. "You look none the worse for wear."
Buffy shrugged--all lingering aches and pains had faded through the night as she'd slept. Alone--she wasn't sure where Angelus had slept but he'd left her the bed.
"Did you really attack one of the gates?" Sumaki's voice held a lot more respect than it ever had before.
"I want out of here. It's no secret."
"Buffy," Verlinka began gently, "There is no escape from Hell. Even we who can venture onto the mortal planes can only do it under carefully structured circumstances and never for very long. Humans, neither souls nor physical bodies, can ever leave here."
"I don't believe in absolutes."
"So, you'll keep throwing yourself at the gates? Buffy, you can die here."
"Then I'll die. Verlinka, I'm not staying here for the rest of my life or eternity or whatever I get." A troubled frown crossed her face. "Living humans aren't meant to survive here."
"But, you're more than human, Buffy," Sumaki added as she swung onto her horse.
Buffy and Verlinka followed suit. "And that's why I've survived this long but that can't last."
"I think you underestimate yourself, and Lord Lucifer's interest in you." At Buffy's sharp look, Verlinka shrugged and kicked her horse into a trot out of the stable yard. "No one expected it to last this long."
"Well, I'm glad I'm not boring him."
"You're certainly not dull." Both demonesses laughed and all three headed towards the fields behind the palace.
When Buffy returned from a long run, hair tousled by the wind, face flushed with pleasure, Angelus caught her in his arms and buried his face in her neck. Buffy squealed and hit at him, yanking her head back.
"What the hell?"
"You smell like horse and sweat and just a hint of brimstone. Very enticing," he murmured, hands moving over the small of her back. "I should have come down and tumbled you in the hay loft."
Reaching behind, she batted at his hands, her eyes wide in surprise. "There'll be no tumbling. Cut that out!" He patted her bottom and she squirmed, then gasped as she felt him harden against her stomach.
"Keep squirming," Angelus beckoned with a lazy grin.
"Let me go."
The timbre of his voice made her still and stare up into his turbulent eyes. For the first time in a very long time she realized he did want her.
The demon, not the soul.
And that thought stirred something inside her she didn't want to think about.
"I can't do this," she muttered, pulling free of him.
"It's like falling off a bike."
She snapped at his humor, "Don't make jokes. We don't even like each other."
Angelus shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest. "I never said that, well, not since we arrived here. Buffy, regardless of what you believe, you're never leaving here. Do you want to be alone for the rest of eternity?"
"I...No, but...this would be wrong. Just because I want you..."
"You want me?" he interrupted with a masculine crow which made her blush.
"Well...yeah...I mean, you're...him." Buffy's voice faded and she chewed on her bottom lip. "You look like him, you touch me like him. I can't..."
Angelus frowned. "Betray him."
"He's not coming back." He wasn't being cruel, just stating a fact she'd long ago accepted. "So, you really will be alone here. I have any number of willing companions but I can't see you slipping into just any demon's bed, not even Lucifer's."
"He doesn't want me like that. And why don't you go bug one of your willing companions. I don't want you want you!"
Angelus sneered, "Liar," and caught her in his arms, pulling her against him and kissing her breathless. As she moaned and sagged against him, her fingers wrapping in the lapels of his waistcoat, he sent her spinning from him. "You're just too scared to admit the truth, that what you've always craved about Angel is me."
"You're sick," Buffy choked out, hands clenching at her sides as the desire to pummel him hit her hard.
"Nope. I can smell it on you, Buff. You want me, and you hate yourself for it, and you've been fighting it and denying it for months, long before we got here. Giving in won't bring about the end of the world. It's already ended for you. Might as well enjoy the rubble."
"I'll never do that," was her passionate reply.
Angelus chuckled nastily. "Never, in Hell, is a very long time." Turning, he left the suite, and Buffy slowly collapsed on the sofa, face falling as her emotions overwhelmed her.
"I want her dead," Baraquel snarled as blood dripped from one broken wing onto the pristine marble floor of Lucifer's throne room.
Chained at his feet, Buffy glared up at the fallen angel. She'd fought him without sleep or food or respite for nearly four days before he'd finally gotten the better of her and knocked her unconscious.
"I was the last one standing, Lucifer. She nearly made it to the gate. She needs to be put down."
"Your wounds will heal," Lucifer replied, his attention solely on the defiant Slayer.
"Her rebellion against you will only incite the souls."
"Then that shall give you all something to look forward to," came out caustically as Lucifer swung his eyes to his brother. "She didn't make it to the gate because you stopped her, but in the end that doesn't matter because there is nothing outside any of the gates for her."
"You don't know that. None of us know that."
Lucifer frowned and pointed to the door. "Out."
"At least punish her!" Baraquel protested as he obeyed the King of Hell and stomped out of the throne room.
With a wave of his hand the chains fell away from her and Buffy absently rubbed at her chafed wrists.
"Should I punish you?"
"...I don't care." Eyes on the marble floor she felt the exhaustion getting the better of her and really didn't care what happened next as long as it happened quickly.
The next thing she knew she was being carried in Lucifer's arms, and, for once, her body was too worn and beaten for his touch to arouse her. Forcing her eyes to remain open she felt a frisson of fear as they entered an unfamiliar bedroom and, when he placed her on the bed, she whimpered and shook her head.
Lucifer smiled almost gently and stroked the back of one hand down her dirty cheek. "Sleep."
The darkness took her, driving with it the sudden burst of fear.
Buffy awakened feeling refreshed, if still a bit sore. Wondering how long she'd slept, she slowly opened her eyes and let the memories return--the trek, the battle, the defeat, the chains...Lucifer. A gasp broke from her and she pushed herself up into a seated position, eyes darting around the resplendent room. It was elegant and masculine with gilt edged furniture, dark woods, and navy velvets and brocades.
A quick glance down showed her that she was dressed in a simple white cotton shift and that she appeared to be clean. A sniff told her that something had bathed her in sandalwood, but another scent was overwhelming it--something more exotic and familiar.
The bed, her skin, it all smelled like him.
Had he touched her?
Panic began to flood her system and she struggled from the comfort of the bed onto shaky legs. Lucifer had said he didn't want her that way, but...what if...what if?
A door opened and she was trapped like a deer in headlights as the object of her thoughts strolled into the room dressed casually in tan riding breeches, black leather boots, and a white shirt, open half-way down his chest. His golden hair was windblown and she assumed he'd been riding.
He smiled at her, that smile that was never entirely pleasant. "Feeling better? You slept around the clock, not that we have clocks here."
Was that a joke?
Buffy gaped at him in shock, then frantically glanced around for her clothes.
"I had them burned. They were nothing more than bloody rags."
"They were all I had of Earth," she replied, her voice dull with a kind of grief.
Lucifer's smile gentled and he crossed to her to place a gentle palm on her cheek. "Then it's for the best. You must cut the strings, Buffy Summers. This is your home and your life."
Helpless tears sprang into her eyes as that truth finally began to sink in.
Summoned to Court that night, Buffy sipped a glass of wine and watched Angelus flirting with a bevy of demonesses. He wasn't talking to her. After yelling at her about her reckless behavior for nearly half an hour, she'd called his attitude childish and, for a moment, thought he'd punch her through a wall, but then he'd stormed out of their suite. She'd spent the afternoon in the tub eating chocolates, and when he'd returned he'd reeked of cheap perfume and had lipstick smears on his face.
Lucifer made his appearance and all eyes turned to him as he crossed the floor and mounted the dias upon which sat his throne. Turning to face the crowd, he remained standing and held out a hand.
"Please join me, Buffy Summers."
Swallowing hard as trepidation filled her, she set down her glass and gathered her ruby satin skirt in one hand to mount the stairs. Lucifer took her hand and turned her to the crowd.
"I hereby bestow upon Buffy Summers the lands of the Barony of Zilphat, and the accompanying title of Lady Zilphat. All honor and respect owed that ancient title shall be owed her as her right."
As Buffy stared at him, he placed a kiss on the back of her hand, then slid a heavy gold signet ring on her finger.
"This ring signifies your ownership of the estates and rule over all its subjects."
"...I..." She didn't want this. She didn't want any ties to this place, and the thought of ruling...subjects--souls, slaves, no she couldn't!--made her heart ache and her stomach clench. Still, she hadn't survived this long by being stupid. "Thank you, Lord Lucifer." She curtsied, then allowed him to lead her to the dance floor. As the music started, he swung her into a waltz.
"Thank you for proving me right," he murmured. "Abbadon wagered his newest stud that you would throw the ring in my face."
"Why did you do this?" she hissed, her face flushed from both his touch and confusion.
"Because you earned it."
"By trying to escape?"
"Through amusing and pleasing me. And, I will admit it, I wish to bind you here and give you a reason to stay. If you continue to try to escape, something may well end you despite my protection."
"You can give me half of Hell, I'll never stop trying."
Lucifer smiled indulgently. "And my protection shall not last forever. Now you have the vassals and means to protect yourself. Go visit your estates. See what I have given you."
Heartbreak suffused her voice, as she choked out, "You're trying to turn me into a demon."
"I have no need to turn you into anything," was his cryptic reply. He stopped their dancing in front of Angelus and placed her hand in the vampire's, before turning and leaving the ballroom.
"What the hell was that all about?" Angelus growled. "Everywhere I went today all I heard was how you spent the night in Lucifer's bed. Is this your payment?"
Confusion turned to anger and Buffy barely restrained herself from slapping the sneer off his face. "I collapsed at his feet and he, being a gentleman, gave up his bed for me, unlike certain other people," she added snidely.
"Yeah, sure he did."
Buffy glared at him, then stomped gracefully out of the ballroom.
Through a mostly sleepless night, she finally came to the decision to check out her estates, so at dawn, she quickly dressed in a navy traveling dress and quietly entered the bedroom to pack a bag. She glanced once at the bed to assure herself that Angelus was asleep, and blushed crimson at finding him naked and sprawled across the big bed. Jerking her eyes from him, she moved to the wardrobe and stuffed a couple of dresses into a valise. As she turned to her bureau, she ran into a still very naked Angelus and gasped.
Forcing her eyes to remain on his face, she shook her head. "I'm going to see what Lucifer gave me."
Angelus scowled. "Not without me you're not. You've done enough gallivanting around Hell alone." Ignoring her sound of protest, he reopened the wardrobe and pulled out some clothes.
"You're not invited!"
"Tough shit." He yanked on black breeches and a white shirt before turning back to glare at her. "This might be a trap or something and I'm not spending another day wondering what nasty thing is going to eat you." He buckled on a short sword, then tossed her a dagger in a sheath.
"I've survived so far just fine without you."
"Because you've snuck out on me! Not this time." Grabbing a coat, he slung it over one shoulder then jammed his feet into boots. "Now, where is this place."
"You've shown absolutely no desire to leave Dis. Are you sure your bimbos will survive without you?"
A nasty smile crossed his face. "Jealous?"
"You wish," Buffy retorted, crossing her arms over her chest.
Stooping, he scooped up her valise and stuffed a clean pair of breeches and shirt into it, then headed out the door. "Coming?"
Buffy watched him go until he was opening the outer door to their suite, then she cursed and followed him.
A carriage--not a bone one, thankfully--was waiting for them with a driver who seemed to know where he was going. Not at all interested in the landscape--though Buffy was growing a bit concerned about how readily she was accepting the perpetual red sky, flames, and low groans of suffering that blanketed most of Hell--Buffy buried her nose in a book--apparently trashy romance novels were popular in Hell--while Angelus napped.
She scowled when he shifted in his sleep, taking up even more space on the cushioned seat, and she scooted into the corner, not wanting to touch him at all. Every touch gave her an unwanted tingle in the pit of her stomach. They were growing comfortable with each other and that bothered her.
More and more her life on Earth was becoming a thing of distant memories, as were all the horrors and pain Angelus had caused her, and, more worrisome, so were the memories of Angel and his love for her. One of the reasons for her attacks on the gates--and the inevitable weeks of planning leading up to them--was to try to hold onto herself. Buffy knew it would be so easy to accept her place here, make a life for herself more than she had, even be content--which was a downright scary thought.
This estate and title Lucifer had given her were a tie to this place she really didn't want, which was precisely why he'd given them to her.
Her mind too full of restless thoughts, Buffy gave up on the book and stuffed it in her valise, then looked out her window. Something shown blueish in the distance and she frowned as her eyes adjusted.
"Are we there yet?"
Buffy rolled her eyes and continued staring out the window towards the distant light. After a few more minutes of travel, the light suddenly made sense and Buffy started in shock.
"It's the sun."
"Huh?" Angelus stuck his head out the window on his side, then pulled it back in, giving her a perplexed look. "Where'd the red go?"
"It's blue sky." Excitement filled her voice and she wrapped her fingers around the window sill, her eyes fastened on the quickly approaching light. Looking down towards the ground beneath the blue sky she thought she saw green growing things--trees, bushes--and a large white house on a hill.
Five minutes later they crossed some kind of barrier and suddenly the sky was blue with white puffy clouds, the light was yellow/white, and the verges were lined with blooming bushes and green grass.
Angelus jerked shut his curtain. "What the fuck is going on?"
"It's...it's...like an oasis," Buffy finally got out as her mind tried to puzzle through this. "Oh my god, it's so beautiful. The carriage passed a large garden being tended by orange skinned demons who waved at them, before turning back to weeding and harvesting. "This must be where my food comes from. This is why he gave me this estate." A sudden desire to get out, to run through the grass, to smell the flowers filled her and she turned a brilliant smile on a scowling Angelus. "Is that a babbling brook?"
"No, it's a babbling Buffy," he replied shortly. "I knew I should have stayed in Dis. The sun and I don't exactly get along."
"Are you pouting."
She giggled. "The sounds are gone, the sounds of pain. I've gotten so used to them I hardly realized it."
The coach drove across a bridge and into the courtyard of the manor house before coming to a halt. Buffy was out the door in a flash, nearly stumbling over her skirts as she spun around, taking it all in.
The doors to the manor opened and a butler came out--humanoid in form, wearing a stiff black suit. He bowed before her and she forced herself to stop grinning. "Lady Zilphat, I am Gegor, your butler. Welcome to Zilphat Manor." He nodded at the carriage. "Your consort need not fear this sun. It only resembles that of your home plane but will not damage him."
"It is real, my lady. It warms the soil, feeds the plants. We who reside her have grown accustomed to it, some have even come to need it to thrive."
Buffy caught a glimpse of Angelus cautiously sticking one foot out of the carriage then, when it didn't catch on fire, slowly emerging.
"Your bags shall be brought to your suite. May I ask how long you will be staying?"
"Um, just a day or two, I guess."
"Very good. Cook shall prepare a feast for tonight to welcome you. Regrettably we have only animal blood for your consort."
She gave her frowning 'consort' a mischievous smile. "He'll live."
"Would you like to freshen up or shall I give you a tour of the manor?"
"Tour please," was her eager reply as she followed him inside the cool entry hall, Angelus trailing behind her.
The manor was elegantly decorated--a bit more subdued than all the gilt and velvet in Lucifer's palace--and much to her liking. There were a dozen bedrooms and several rooms for entertaining, as well as a well-stocked library and a sitting room for her to hide in. Behind the house were extensive flower gardens with fountains and statues. After touring the house and seeing her bedroom suite, Buffy headed outdoors. Her body didn't feel the heat of Hell, but she could feel her skin warm beneath this pseudo-sun.
Stopping next to a bubbling fountain, she closed her eyes and drank in the feeling.
"It feels like home," she said softly.
"Looks like it, too." When she opened her eyes to look at him, Angelus shrugged. "Looks like dozens of estates in England, even down to the pea gravel." Stooping, he ran his fingers through it. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear we were there." Brushing off his hand, he straightened up, then took Buffy's hand, tucking it into his arm. "You look happy." They started to walk down a path between rose bushes.
"I...am. I know, that's weird."
"It's a relief."
She gave him a confused look which grew even deeper on seeing that he actually did look relieved. "Huh?"
"Remember the very first day here? How I said that I don't dislike you, don't want you dead, all that stuff?"
"I meant it, and going along with that is the desire that you be, well, at least accepting of all this. We're stuck here."
Dropping her eyes to the path as they walked, Buffy let that sink in before quietly answering. "I know."
"I hate it," she ground out bitterly.
"Yeah, I know," he replied almost gently.
Buffy felt tears sting the corners of her eyes and blinked at them, not wanting to cry in front of him, but as acceptance settled over her, crying became inevitable, and a loud sniffle broke from her.
"Oh fuck," Angelus groaned, "Don't, baby, please don't."
"I can't help it," she sobbed and collapsed against him, unable to walk any farther, the tears streaming down her cheeks. "I want to go home!" Turning her face into his chest, she wrapped her fingers in the folds of his coat and bitterly wept. Slowly Angelus' arms went around her back and his hands began to stroke her soothingly.
After several minutes of crying, Buffy forced herself under control and slowly pulled away from him. When he released her, she wiped at her eyes, sniffled, and made her way to a wooden bench beneath a flowering plum tree. She sat and sniffled some more, then looked up at him.
"I'm going to keep trying to escape."
He jammed his hands in his pockets and nodded in resignation. "You wouldn't be Buffy if you didn't try. Just don't get yourself killed, okay?"
She tried a watery smile. "Not on my list of things to do anytime soon." When he joined her on the bench, he pulled one of his hands free of its pocket and held it out to her. Hesitantly she took it and felt warmth seep beneath her skin. "I'd like to spend time here, more than at Court. You can stay there."
"No I can't spend time here?" she demanded, getting her back up.
Angelus rolled his eyes at her. "No, I won't stay at Court without you. One, you're the only reason I've been welcome and, two, I'm not leaving you alone."
"Why do you care?"
He shrugged. "No clue."
"You don't love me," she began, a bit hesitantly.
He opened his mouth, a swear on his tongue, then cursed beneath his breath and looked away from her. "It's not love," he finally ground out. "I just don't like being away from you."
"I don't love you either."
Snorting at that, Angelus replied dryly, "Yeah, that's quite obvious."
"So...what is it?"
"Buffy, I'm a demon," he replied as patiently as he could. "We don't spend any time analyzing our feelings. We just have them or not and get on with it."
Buffy frowned at him but didn't pull her hand free of his. "This is so weird. It seems like it was just yesterday that you were trying to kill me."
"Living in the past will do you no good."
He laughed and squeezed her hand. "Come on, let's see what kind of feast your subjects have put on for us."
As they started to walk, Buffy commented on something that she'd noticed as they'd toured the manor and the grounds, "There don't seem to be any humans here."
"There aren't. I can smell a soul from a mile or two away and there aren't any. Just demons, and pretty placid ones, too."
"You know, every time we're together Lucifer mentions that his favor will end some day, but I'm beginning to wonder if that's not exactly true."
"As long as he doesn't try to fuck you, he can keep favoring you all he wants."
She was the one to laugh this time. "You really are jealous."
Laughing with rare pleasure, Buffy pulled free of him and dashed ahead, looking over her shoulder to tease him. "Catch me if you can."
For an instant Angelus appeared startled, then he grinned widely and took off after her. When he caught her in a small courtyard outside the conservatory, she didn't struggle free of his arms, only looked up at him and nodded her consent.
Angelus lowered his head and kissed her, the softest kiss he'd ever given her, then tucked her arm into his and led her into dinner.
Later that night, after a sumptuous feast, and only a bit of grousing by Angelus at the pig's blood, Buffy sat cross-legged on her bed, painting her toenails and thinking.
The crying had been cathartic, something she'd needed for a long time. The tears shed before Lucifer the week before hadn't been enough. She'd needed to cry in familiar arms.
That Angelus was now familiar to her no longer frightened or bothered her. He wasn't the same evil demon who'd terrorized Sunnydale through the Winter and early Spring. He was...dare she even think it?
Briefly closing her eyes, she nodded and took a deep breath before allowing the thought to find purchase.
Here, in Hell, he was very close to Angel.
And she no longer minded.
There was something between them. It had been growing since their arrival, despite the sniping and bouts of jealousy, and days spent ignoring each other. She'd been in denial over that, too.
Blowing on her toes, Buffy set aside the bottle of All Shook Up red--amazing that Hell had Opi products--and waited for the color to dry as she pondered her next move. It really didn't take much pondering, so mostly she grew impatient and waved an open book over her toes to speed up the drying process.
Finally, she mentally said to hell with it and slipped off the bed. Wearing only a loose-fitting, semi-sheer gown in pink and gold, Buffy crossed to the connecting door and opened it, passing through the space between and opening the second door.
A fire gleamed on the hearth, the only light in the room. Seated in front of it, wearing only breeches and an open white shirt, Angelus was reading, his legs stretched out in front of him. At her entry, he glanced up, then dropped the book as his jaw dropped as well.
"Buffy?" He sprang to his feet and stared at her.
Swallowing hard, feeling the first moment of trepidation, Buffy closed the door behind her and leaned back against it. "Um...hi?"
"Is something wrong?"
That he asked that question first made everything all right.
Smiling, she pushed away from the door and crossed the floor to him. "You really aren't all that evil, you know?"
"I am too," he blustered then automatically wrapped his arms around her when she pressed herself to him. "Buffy?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah," she sighed and rose on her toes to kiss his chin until he dipped lower and she could reach his mouth. "I don't want to be alone here."
"You're not," he swore as he scooped her into his arms. "I'll never let you be."
"Good, because you were right that first day." As Angelus settled her onto the bed, Buffy pulled him down with her and pressed another kiss to him. "I don't think I can survive without you."
Outside the sun set and the moon rose high and full over the one content corner of Hell, and inside two enemies became something much more.