The scuff of leather on stone dragged Buffy's attention from the latest Nora Roberts' romance novel and she glanced up from the secluded garden bench, shielding her eyes against the setting sun.
Her butler, Gegor, bowed and extended a silver tray which held a crisp white envelope edged with gold. "My Lady."
Trying not to frown, Buffy took the envelope and watched Gegor turn and walk back towards the manor, his feet no longer making a sound on the pea gravel path. As he disappeared around a hedge, she turned her attention to the envelope and spun it between her fingers.
It was the third one in as many weeks. Before that, they had arrived monthly for six months.
She'd ignored every one of them.
They'd only been requests and requests could be ignored.
Opening the envelope and taking out the matching card, Buffy felt her heart sink as she realized this wasn't a request.
'Your presence at the Fall Revelry is commanded by Lord Lucifer.'
Jamming the card and envelope between the pages of her book, she slammed the book down on the bench beside her and glared at the garden around her, the sweet-smelling flowers, tinkling sound of the fountain, and gentle breezes no longer soothing her soul.
"I saw the messenger."
Glancing to her right, Buffy turned her glare on her companion and lover, ignoring the pull in her stomach at the sight of him windswept from his late afternoon ride. His cravat was undone and there was dust on his boots. The aroma of horse and man and blood reached her on the breeze and she turned away.
"I'm not making any more excuses for you. You're going to piss him off and I don't know if you have the support to stand without him. You haven't done a thing to rally any, that's for sure."
"I told you when we came here that I didn't want to go back to Court," she snapped, rising to her feet but still feeling him tower over her.
"No, what you said was that you wanted to stay here more often than go to Court which led me to believe that we would be going back to Court."
"You're free to go anytime you want."
Angelus' eyes went hard and dark and his face tightened in angry frustration. "I don't dare go without you any more!"
Buffy shrugged, then yelped as his hands caught her shoulders, biting through the thin muslin of her gown as he yanked her against him. Looking up at him, she winced at the sight of the anger on his face. He was often annoyed with her, but rarely this angry. "Let me go!"
"You've buried us in the country. I haven't been off this estate in over a month and the last time I was at Court was nearly four months ago. It was quite obvious I wasn't welcome back without you."
"Your demon friends will be happy to see you at their estates," she snarled, trying to wrench herself free of him, but here, in Hell, Angelus was her physical match.
"Will they? Too often they follow Lucifer's whims, not their own. I'm only interesting to them because of you, and if you're no longer interesting to him, we're both fucked."
As Angelus' grip lessened, Buffy pulled free and pushed him back. "He gave me this land so I'd have support of my own, so I wouldn't be dependent on him."
"And you should have been using that to make alliances outside of him, ones that will stand against his own fickle nature. Instead, if any demon brings an army here to invade, who do you think will fight back? The serfs tilling your fields? The horse grooms and gardeners armed with shovels?"
His words rolled over her like a wave and she swallowed hard against a sudden fear. It was true, all she'd been doing was reading and relaxing and making love with him, letting her estate tend itself and provide her with food and a comfortable home. From what Angelus had told her she knew that most estates had standing armies, most of them small, but still more than what she had, and that one the favorite pastimes of demons was invading and conquering.
The idyllic nature of her estate had made it way too easy to ignore the reality of Hell.
Worried and a bit scared, Buffy reached for the invitation sticking out of the book and handed it to Angelus who glanced at it, then frowned deeply.
"Not a request anymore," was her dull reply.
Angelus' face went cold and his eyes snapped dark fire. "If you've pissed him off, you get down on your knees and beg forgiveness. You lose his favor now and we're dead, really dead."
"Why didn't you make me go to Court before this?" she yelled. "Why didn't you make me make alliances? Why did you let me just stay here?"
His eyes burned into hers until she flinched back and dropped her gaze to the path at her feet. "Because you were happy here," he finally murmured, "And I hoped you'd come to your senses before we got to this point."
"I'm a seventeen year old mortal Slayer in Hell, Angelus! Not exactly known for doing the right or smart thing on my own!"
He growled at her and shoved the invitation into her hand. "Pack your sluttiest dress. We leave for Dis in the morning."
"Pig," she yelled at his back as he stormed away from her.
Buffy spent a sleepless night tossing and turning in her bed, trying to ignore the cold, empty side of the mattress next to her. As she finally dozed off near dawn, she hugged Angelus' pillow and tried not to cry. He'd never been angry enough to sleep somewhere else.
The gates of Dis loomed large and foreboding in front of their carriage, and the smell of blood from the river that circled the city made Buffy's stomach turn. Clasping her hands together tightly in her lap, she watched Angelus hand their invitation to one of the giant guards, then heard the creak of the gates as they slowly opened. The drawbridge landed with a loud thump, making her jump, and she felt her heart leap into her throat.
She'd really hoped she'd never need to come back here.
That had really been a stupid hope.
Glancing out the window she focused on the palace on the hill. Elegant yet simple, imposing but not overly large, Buffy knew the exterior was an illusion. Inside were hundreds upon hundreds of room, enough to accommodate all the demons of Hell, not that all would be invited. Only the couple hundred elite, the aristocracy.
That included her.
Unless she was going to be stripped of her title and estate and thrown to the wolves.
Petulantly she'd blamed Angelus for not forcing her to come back here at any of the previous invitations, but deep in her heart she'd known her avoidance of Dis and Court was her own fault. Whatever happened now was on her head.
She just hoped she got to keep that head.
What kind of stupid woman pissed off Lucifer?!
The butler who opened the door was the same one as before and his eyes as they ran over her remained cool and unaffected. "Your rooms are the same as before, vampire," he said, dismissing Angelus without even a look, as his eyes snapped to Buffy's. "You will go to the throne room." Stepping back, he let them enter, and Buffy felt a shiver of fear go through her at the almost helpless look Angelus shot her before he took their bags and headed for the stairs.
Stiffening her spine and swallowing hard, Buffy gripped her fingers into the sides of her dress and forced her feet to move in the opposite direction. A tiny hope was mingling with the fear. If he was giving them rooms, maybe...maybe...
The door to the throne room opened before her and she stepped onto the checkerboard of black and white marble. Like the first time she'd been there, the room was empty except for one being.
And, slouched on his throne, his wings tucked behind him, a rose slowly twirling between the thumb and finger of his right hand, he looked supremely bored.
Stopping a few feet from the steps leading up to the ruler of Hell, Buffy raised brave eyes to him and unclenched her fingers from wrinkled blue silk.
His voice nearly drowned her in a mixture of fear and lust, and she again swallowed hard as she shook her head. "No."
Slowly, so slowly Buffy felt the beads of sweat that had formed on her forehead begin to slide one by one down her face, he turned his golden eyes to her and she felt the power from him trying to force her to her knees.
And she resisted.
Angelus had told her to beg him on her knees, but she couldn't. She couldn't.
Not even for her life.
He snorted and the power against her receded, leaving her panting for breath and trembling. "Interesting." Their eyes met and Buffy forced herself to hold his gaze, despite the dizziness she felt when she looked into those dark depths. "Why have you avoided my Court, Buffy Summers?"
"I...I don't know."
A smile that was so far from amused cross his face. "Do you think you can lie to the Prince of Lies?"
With a gasp, she broke his gaze. "Because it's evil here, and I'm the Slayer, one of the good guys."
"I don't know what you want from me."
"Illusions, I will allow. Playing games comes naturally to the denizens of Hell. You can lie to yourself, but not to me, and you can live in denial no more. Yes, it is evil here, but that is only half the story. Half the truth. Tell me." His voice reverberated through her, making her shudder and wrap her arms around herself. As the truth finally pulled together in her mind into one clear thought, she felt torn between tears and fury.
She gave into the tears, letting them slide from wide hazel eyes as she lifted them again to his face, a face both serene and horrifying. "Because I was becoming too comfortable here." Waiting for him to respond, she bit her lip and tried not to scream.
Relief flooded her and it was too much, the twisting between one end of the emotional spectrum and the next that being in his presence always caused her to suffer. She started to collapse, only to be caught in Lucifer's uncaring embrace, and that made her cry even harder.
"I want to go home," Buffy finally whimpered against his linen-covered chest, the cloth damp from her tears.
"You are home."
His words weren't meant to be callous, only the truth, but they broke something inside her, and when he swept her into his arms, his wings extending to shadow them both, she didn't protest.
At the feel of the soft mattress beneath her back, Buffy opened her sore eyes and blinked wearily up at Lucifer as he stood over her, watching her. She recognized the room--his--and wondered dully if this was finally it.
"If I asked you to be my consort, would you say yes?"
She hadn't actually expected him to ask and felt herself flush as that confusing mix of desire and fear pushed past her sorrow. "No."
Lucifer smirked and crossed his arms over her chest. "Why?"
"Because I love Angelus."
"And that is why you remain interesting to me. Any other demoness would have jumped at the offer, but then any other demoness could not use the reason of loving another to avoid my bed. No one in Hell loves."
"Except you," he softly added, a bit of wonder in his voice.
Buffy sat up and pushed the skirt that had risen over one knee back down to her ankles. For a girl who'd grown up in mini-skirts, she'd quickly adjusted to the eighteenth-century style fashions of Hell along with the odd morality which decreed that showing cleavage was fine but calves wasn't. As she swung her legs over the side of the bed, something he'd said bothered her and she frowned up at him. "I'm not a demoness."
"You have full access to my library. Read your own history, Buffy Summers, the history of the Slayers. There is a reason beyond my patronage as to why you are surviving here."
Frowning even more at the implications he was making, she stood to face him. "Do I still have your patronage?"
"If I hadn't come here?"
Slender, strong fingers cupped her chin, burning into her skin and making her knees weak, but she held her ground. "You may have hidden yourself on your estates these past months, but your name, your reputation, spread while you hid. They talk of you in the far corners of Hell. They wonder what you are planning. They wonder if you will continue to entertain them...or slaughter them all. You make eternal existence interesting, not just for me, but for them. Anything that alleviates boredom cannot be dismissed or ignored." His fingers slid first up over her lips then down her throat to the hollow at the base and she shivered uncontrollably. "Any longer spent in hiding, though, may have caused opinion to shift. It was wise of you to attend me." His hand fell away and he stepped back, a stern look on his beautiful face. "Do not ignore my requests in the future. The next time I must command you to come to Court, you will spend it in this bed and not alone."
Buffy wanted to protest but she held her tongue and gave him a short, almost angry nod of acceptance.
"Then go to your vampire whom you love so much, but save your first dance for me."
Angelus' pacing betrayed his worry which came out as frustration and anger when he grabbed Buffy and shook her. Kissing her with hard lips, leaving her breathless, he barked, "Well?"
"I'm still interesting, but...you're right, I can't hide anymore." Pulling free of him she flopped down on the settee and glared into the fire burning on the marble hearth. "Something about public opinion shifting from me being scary and entertaining if I don't show up around here more often."
"We need the alliances you can make. Lucifer's support won't last forever. I'm surprised it lasted this long with you stupidly avoiding him."
"Will you stop yelling at me?" she yelled back only to yelp as he wrapped his hand in her hair and jerked her head back as he leaned menacingly over her.
"I should never have let you put us into this kind of danger. When the first invite came, I should have dragged your ass back here."
Buffy kicked him in the shin and, when he released her hair, jumped to her feet and punched him in the jaw. "Yeah, you should have, so I'm happy to put all the blame on you."
Head snapping back from the blow, Angelus staggered then growled at her and grabbed her, jerking her up and over his shoulder. As she yelled and beat at his back, he carried her to the bedroom and dumped her on the bed, coming down on top of her before she could scramble up.
"You're a pig!" She clawed at his shoulders and kicked him in the side.
"And you're a stubborn bitch. So what?" He forced her hands down on either side of her head and buried his fangs in the side of her neck.
Screaming in pleasure, Buffy thrashed and bucked her way to orgasm.
Pursing her lips in dismay, Buffy slapped makeup over the bruise and two healing puncture wounds on her neck and tried to ignore the pleased off-key singing of the vampire in the shower behind her. Pig.
Though not a selfish one, as the ache between her legs was one of pure pleasure, and just the memory of his tongue licking every inch of her made her shiver in renewed desire.
Their arguments usually ended up with them in bed fucking each other like wild animals--which was one reason the night before and her empty bed had bothered her so much--and that should be something to worry about, but this was Hell and there were too many other things to worry about. Whether or not sex ending a fight was acceptable behavior in the real world, it was better than one lover killing the other which was often how demon relationships ended.
Not that demons stayed dead, but it was the point of the thing.
Finished with her make-up and her hair, she rose and slipped out of her robe as she walked into her dressing room where a maid waited for her and helped her into a gorgeous rose taffeta gown over a rose printed underskirt in ribbon-trimmed silk. It wasn't her sluttiest dress, but it was new, pretty, and showed off her assets, making her breasts look bigger with the corset and lacing, and her waist tiny. The color accented the pink of her skin and honey blonde hair, and the tiny greenish leaves matched her eyes. Slipping her feet into dance shoes, she fingered the jewelry she'd brought, then saw the necklace and earrings at the bottom of the case.
Diamonds and one pale ruby.
How had he known the color of her dress?
Silly question. He was Lucifer. He knew everything.
He also knew that when she wore his gifts she made Angelus jealous, and she wondered if Lucifer was subtly trying to break them up. He could just order her, after all, and chances were that Angelus would push her into Lucifer's bed to save his own neck. She loved him but didn't have any illusions about him. He was a half-breed demon in Hell, relying on her for survival, and it frustrated him, even though he cared deeply for her. But, as a demon, he was a pragmatist, too, and while he'd hate it, he wouldn't fight Lucifer for her.
Not that she needed anyone to fight for her. She could bloody well defend her own honor.
Although a tiny part of her wondered what it would be like...
Buffy had managed to kiss Angelus' scowls away before they arrived at the ball that was the center of the revelry. Her maid had explained that it wasn't a celebration of the autumn but of the Fall. The Fall, capital F. Buffy found it weird that Lucifer celebrated what he despised so much, his fall from grace. The other fallen angels she'd run into in Hell sure weren't happy to be here, and the native demons, while used to being ruled by the Fallen, weren't all that thrilled either.
On the other hand, the demons liked a good party too much to complain, and Lucifer clung to anything that didn't bore him too much. Since his balls and parties had the most chance for intrigue, romance, and outright murder, he allowed them to go on, even if he spent most of the time sitting on his throne observing the party goers.
As Angelus stopped to talk to some baron or another about some boring hunt, Buffy scanned the crowd, nodding at a few demonesses she knew and trying not to smile at the surprise and quickly masked fear on some of the faces. Maybe she'd stretched the point a bit far by hibernating in the country for seven months, but did she really want them to become so used to her they no longer worried about her?
Maybe an appearance once a month or so wouldn't hurt, and if they did start adjusting too well to her, she could always disappear again for a while.
And, as Verlinka and Sumaki came over to her, smiles of welcome on their faces, Buffy realized she'd been a bit lonely with no female companionship. Even if she could never be friends with a demon, it was nice to talk to someone other than her lover.
As she listened to them pointing out which demon was in favor with Lucifer, which was cheating on her husband, which was gambling away his estates, she ignored the little voice inside her that warned she shouldn't become too comfortable here, and shifted the conversation to fashion, making sure she pointed out just where her diamonds had come from.
Just a little reminder of her status.
Which was advanced further when Lucifer made his appearance in his standard black tuxedo, took her hand, and led her to the dance floor. As the music started and they began to move to it, she steadily met his eyes and smiled.
"Hm..." His hand on the small of her back pulled her closer and she nearly stepped on his foot in surprise as their bodies pressed together, but managed to keep the rhythm and continued to smile. "The first time we danced you alternated between wanting to collapse at my feet in gibbering terror or drag me to the nearest bed."
Buffy felt her cheeks flame but held his gaze. "After a zillion years, you should know by now what your touch does to a human."
Lucifer smirked and squeezed the hand held in his. "You no longer age and, if you play your cards right, you will not die or at least not for a very long time. You will never escape. This is your life now. Some day you will be as bored as I and seek me out."
Her smile widened into a mischievous grin. "Do you think you can keep up with a Slayer?"
At her audacity, Lucifer laughed, a rich, deep sound that stunned most of the demons, surprised the other fallen angels, and made Buffy laugh as well. As the dance ended, he brought them to a halt in front of Angelus who looked weirdly worried. Lucifer brought her hand to his lips and kissed her palm, then placed her hand in the vampire's. "Do not stay away so long next time, Buffy Summers."
It was a softly spoken order, but in his voice Buffy heard something, a kind of wistful longing, that made her nod. "I won't. I think I'm finally out of denial."
"Good." With a bow of his head, he turned and headed for his throne as the quartet began another musical piece and other couples moved onto the dance floor. Buffy looked up at Angelus, then leaned against him with a sigh.
"I don't like the attention he pays you," Angelus growled possessively, wrapping her in his embrace.
"You can't have it both ways. I know what I'm doing." She sighed again, then pulled him into a dance. "When we get home, we'll start recruiting an army and the next time a neighbor invites us over for dinner we'll go. Maybe I'll even plan a dinner party of my own." Looking up into his confused eyes, she smirked and added, "And then I'll try to escape again."
Angelus rolled his eyes and kissed her hungrily. "Stupid bitch."
"Your stupid bitch, you pig," she replied affectionately which made him laugh and twirl her on the floor.