Standing atop a rust colored boulder, Buffy looked down at the angel watching her like a hawk. Ramiel's hand rested lightly on the hilt of his sheathed sword as he stood in front of the fifth of the seven true gates. It gleamed golden, polished continually by a hundred moaning souls.
She ignored them, her eyes noting the growing frustration on the angel's face as he waited for attack, the intricate locks on the gate, the dust stirred up by the souls that made their task more difficult. Above her the sky burned and ashes drifted down from demons and souls that flew too close to the fire.
Flicking a cold ash from her cheek, she fingered the knife she wore on her belt, then leapt gracefully off the boulder, down a dozen feet to the ground. Nothing grew in the red dust before the gate and the bones of the fallen were neatly stacked to the sides of the massive structure, in front of sheer rock walls that were higher than the sky.
Ramiel stiffened and the souls stopped working, finally falling silent. The angel's wings spread, ebony feathers rustling soundlessly. He drew his sword.
Buffy smirked, gave him a cocky salute and headed down the road away from the gate where her horse awaited her munching contentedly on the dry weeds alongside the equally dry creek bed. Luckily horses in Hell didn't need water--they didn't need food either, but some things were habit--as it was in short supply in the barren lands. On the estates of the demon aristocracy it was a luxury. No one really needed to drink or bathe in it. Again, there were things that were habit forming.
As she mounted, she reached for her canteen and took a drink of the always cold water from her own estate, then urged her horse into a trot.
She had a party to attend.
Buffy had chosen the fifth gate because it was only a nine hour ride from her manor and she had to pass through only three other estates, all owned by allies. The inhabitants of the unincorporated areas were no threat to her and she'd long since grown hardened to the fields of the damned that dotted the great estates.
She'd left her home around nine o'clock the night before, spent two hours at the gate watching Ramiel grow more and more confused and angry at her failure to attack before heading back to Zilphat. Her plan was to arrive around 4:00 in the afternoon, pacify Angelus' anger for an hour or so and be ready to greet her guests by 8:00 in the evening. She'd learned to do without sleep as a Slayer, and, really, the fallen angel's annoyance had just energized her.
As Buffy drew near her estate and the sky began to change from red to purple to blue, she urged her horse faster, only to bring it to a rearing halt as a being materialized in the middle of the road in front of her.
As the horse whinnied and skittered, Lucifer watched impassively, arms crossed over his chest, wings spread but held loosely. He wore modern dress--black trousers and a white shirt--and there was amusement on his face.
Finally bringing her horse under control, Buffy slid from its back and loosely knotted the reins around her hand. Confronted by the most glorious creature in Hell no longer made her feel like swooning into his arms from fear and desire, but her breath still caught when his golden eyes met hers.
"Ramiel's been ranting in my court for the last four hours as to how you kept him on the edge of battle, then did nothing."
Buffy shrugged her shoulders. "Did he want me to beat the crap out of him?"
Lucifer chuckled. "You confuse him. You confuse us all, Buffy." He no longer called her by her full name, which...bothered her.
"I aim to please," she quipped.
"Why didn't you attack?"
"I have a dinner party in a few hours." It wasn't really an answer and Lucifer's eyes narrowed slightly.
"Then why go there at all?"
She remained silent for a long minute, then softly said, "It's been five years."
Five years since she and Angelus had arrived in Hell.
"I just...wanted..." Sighing, she shrugged again and stared down at the hard packed road beneath her feet. "I dunno. Be close to home, I guess."
Lucifer's sigh echoed hers and before she knew it, he was in front of her, her chin caught in his hands and her eyes lifted toward his. She shivered but didn't try to pull away. "How many times must I tell you..."
"You're the Prince of Lies," she interrupted in a whisper.
"Not about this. There is no way home for you. The gates do not lead out."
"I have to see that for myself." With a jerk, she pulled back from him, relieved when he let her go and a bit worried when his gaze hardened with obvious disappointment. "You want me to accept this as my eternity. I can't. I've told you that over and over."
"So, logically I should allow you to open one of the gates and see the truth," Lucifer replied cooly, once again crossing his arms over his chest, his wings fluttering and betraying his annoyance.
Buffy brightened. "Yeah."
"I was charged with the task of keeping the souls bound here inside Hell with a specific charge of keeping those gates closed. I cannot open them to resolve your curiosity."
"Then I guess I'll just keep trying." Disappointed, she turned to remount her horse, only to find her upper arm caught a she was spun against Lucifer's chest. His wings wrapped around her, trapping her, and she felt her heart rate stutter then zoom upwards. "Don't," she whispered, desperately trying to remain calm.
Lucifer's fingers trailed down one of her cheeks, making her shiver, making her hot and wet, and she blinked rapidly, staring at his chin and refusing to meet his eyes. "There is no escape. Your attempts are a waste of time."
"I have eternity," she bit back, futilely pushing against his chest. "It's mine to waste."
"Because I allow it. There will come a time, perhaps one rapidly approaching, when your attempts will no longer amuse me. Do you want to know what I will do then?"
What she saw in his eyes when she finally met them made her both gasp and moan and, when he released her, she stumbled, nearly falling on her butt. Her horse whinnied in alarm as she backed into it and she swallowed hard.
Lucifer gave her one last, hard look, and vanished.
Buffy slid bonelessly to the ground and tried not to hyperventilate.
Angelus was waiting for her beneath the portico of her manor house. Like Lucifer, he had his arms crossed over his chest, but his posture was due to his anger. Most likely he was restraining himself from smacking her off the horse.
As she dismounted, a silent groom emerged from the stables and took the reins. Buffy slowly pulled off her riding gloves as she watched her lover approach her. His eyes were dark and furious. Five years and nearly twenty attempts on the gates and he still wasn't used to her doing this.
"No gushing wounds?" he snarled.
"I just looked, didn't touch."
"Maybe I should give you a couple, you stupid girl."
"I'm not a girl," Buffy snapped back, her cheeks coloring as anger flooded her. She recognized she was more angry at Lucifer and her own reaction to him, but it was easier to take it out on Angelus.
"You're an idiot!" As he stomped towards her, she stomped towards him, tossing her gloves to the ground.
"When are you going to accept I'm going to keep trying?"
"When are you going to accept that I'm not willing to let you commit suicide?" he yelled back as the came within arms length of each other.
"You could have come after me." Buffy couldn't help the note of petulance in her voice.
"I, for one, am not into committing suicide."
She kicked out at him, he blocked it, and caught her punch, dragging her into his arms.
A few minutes later, a footman sighed heavily as he closed the door on the sight of the lady of the manor rolling in the dirt with her consort. He wasn't certain if they were trying to kill each other or copulate.
Either way, he didn't want to see it.
As her sun began to set, Buffy lounged in her jacuzzi tub, the jets on high, peach scented bubbles covering her slender nudity. Angelus was in the shower, singing off key, and she smiled as she listened. He was in a much better mood.
So was she, if a bit bruised from when he'd turned her onto her hands and knees in the pea gravel and fucked her to a screaming orgasm. Gently she massaged her breasts beneath the bubbles, feeling the healing scrapes from the rough barked tree he'd shoved her against to take her a second time.
That had been orgasm number three. In between, he'd draped her on a bench and gone down on her. She supposed his knees were bruised, too.
On Earth she probably would have been horrified by resolving arguments with Angel with rough, hot sex, but this was Angelus and she...was different, too. While she'd always look seventeen, she felt years older. Much older than twenty-two. Sometimes she couldn't believe that only five years had passed.
Sometimes she felt that eternity weighing on her.
But, not tonight. Tonight was a dinner party with her closest friends.
While she'd been away, the three couples had arrived at the manor and been housed in luxurious guest suites. With the current affectation to Georgian England, most of high level demons traveled by horse and carriage often for long distances, so their guests would be staying the weekend. Buffy was hoping that there would be a change soon to maybe Victorian or more modern because she'd seen the train tracks. In the first few months she'd been here she'd ignored the conventions, ridden the buses that the lower castes used, but with her title came certain obligations and one was to maintain the current aristocratic lifestyle.
To an extent. She wasn't giving up modern plumbing and electricity, trashy romance novels, and chick flicks on dvd.
Dressed in an elegant silk gown of ruby red edged with white lace, rubies and diamonds at her throat and dangling from her ear lobes, Buffy entered her drawing room on Angelus' arm. He was all in black with a ruby red cravat, held in place by a large diamond stick in, his long hair pulled back with a matching satin bow.
Wealth was always on display when there was company and their friends glittered as much as they did.
Her first friend, Verlinka, Baroness of Gorsheim, was the first to greet her.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here to welcome you," she said as they embraced, the demoness cool lips brushing her warmer cheek.
"Angelus was the perfect host."
Glancing towards her lover she saw him chatting with the three male demons as he poured drinks into authentic Waterford crystal. Verlinka's husband, Waller, who she had little to do with, was regaling them with some hunting story already. Buffy embraced her other close friend, Sumaki, who was between husbands and was attending with her brother, Sir Gilly of Samoza. The third couple were her nearest neighbors, whose lands Lucifer had stopped her on, Lord and Lady Astemowa. They were older demons but they'd been the first to ally with Buffy and Angelus and Lord Timor was well versed in the politics of Hell, something Angelus was interested in.
Lady Billa was mostly interested in the snuff manufactured from the pain fields her husband owned and, as a habitual user, was happy to sit in a corner while Buffy chatted with her friends.
"Tomorrow we'll have known you for five years, Buffy," Verlinka said, "I must admit that I didn't expect you to survive."
"But, we're glad you did," Sumaki jumped in, smiling. "And this wine is delicious."
"From my own vineyard. I'll make sure you have a couple bottles to take home with you. Yeah, I know. I didn't expect to be alive this long or...well, here."
"Rumor has it that you weren't here to greet us because you were assaulting one of the gates."
Sighing softly, Buffy corrected, "Visiting. I didn't assault anyone. I think Ramiel was disappointed."
Verlinka gave a trilling laugh, smiling behind her fan of real peacock feathers. "Those Fallen are so touchy."
"They think they're better than us but we're only doing what comes natural to us. They're the ones who turned against their natures."
Buffy nodded at Sumaki's comment. "I wonder if the angels in Heaven are as snooty."
"Well, we'll never know, but arrogance is a sin, right?"
"And they have that in abundance," Verlinka added. "On the other hand, there are a few of them that are more willing to...shall we say, loosen up, with certain pretty demonesses."
As Sumaki's eyes lit up with interest, Buffy grinned. Gossip was the same everywhere.
Most demons could eat anything. While they might prefer blood and guts, they tended to enjoy the food produced on Buffy's estates as rare delicacies. The venison had been hunted by Angelus two days before, the fish came from her river. There was fresh bread and vegetables, potatoes flavored with herbs from her gardens, and, of course, the wine.
Buffy had developed a taste for it. She wasn't sure what kind of grapes she grew but they produced really good red and white wine. Angelus was hoping the champagne grapes would produce in a few years and they were both nurturing the coffee plants in the greenhouse.
The conversation slipped easily from gossip about court to problems on their individual estates, often ones that they all had in common, the feud between the Earls of Maziker and Delendo on the north side of Dis that was threatening to spill into the Forest of Jihan where some of the best hunting was found, as well as the truffles that gave human blood a piquant flavor.
In deference to Buffy's humanity, they didn't discuss souls or the punishments they meted out on their estates, the products that came from their bodies, the eternal misery they existed in.
There was still plenty to talk about.
"So, what is this feud over?" Buffy asked.
Lord Waller turned to her to explain. "Maziker stole Delendo's newest bride. That she went eagerly, swollen with Maziker's child, didn't help."
"Does she end up with the winner?"
"Livinia is a fickle creature," Verlinka explained. "She's fled Maziker as well, taking up residence in Dis. Lord Lucifer doesn't care, of course, but no one will try to drag her out of his court."
"Sounds like they're both better of without her."
"Of course, but there are still egos to be soothed or brains bashed in. It's the principle."
"I just hope they don't destroy the forest," Sumaki's brother, Gilly, added. "We'll be summoned to Court soon enough and if we can't hunt, it will be even more dull. There's talk that the five hundred year boar has returned."
Buffy listened as the men talked about this mythic creature and, as she saw the interest on Angelus' face at the other end of the table, she wondered if this was what the aristocratic life had been like in England in the decades after he was turned. Had he rode to hunt down boars at night as he mingled with the nobility? Danced with ladies in silks and lace? Played whist, a game she'd become quite good at and was looking forward to showing her skills at the end of the meal?
He seemed...happy here. Sometimes she could forget he was a demon.
Sometimes she slipped and called him Angel and he never seemed to mind.
As dessert was served--several different pies including her favorite, plum--Buffy tuned back into the conversation, smiling as Sumaki mused over whether or not she should marry again, and giving her brother the evil eye when he nodded quickly.
"I hear that Belial's eldest has come of age finally. He's supposed to be a bit dimwitted but beautiful," Lady Billa mentioned a bit tipsily.
"Oh, I don't know if I'd ever try to reach that high. One of the Duke's of Hell?"
"The youngest son, dear. Not of much importance. His mother was a Grilka with all that lovely red hair. He inherited it as well as her lack of wit, but wit is what lovers are for."
There were six dukes of Hell--even Buffy knew most of their names from the Bible, but she'd never met any of them. They never attended Court, holding their own on their massive estates.
"Belial ruled with Beezlebub and Lucifer in one of the triumverates recently, right?" Angelus asked.
"Yes," Waller acknowledged. "Those never seemed to work. Lord Lucifer seemed to just go along with them. When they became too tedious he dissolved them."
"It's not like he needed help ruling. All the lords hold their own law courts, anyway, which was the only overt thing the triumverates did. Lucifer mostly sat those out."
"I'll never understand the politics here," Buffy huffed to Verlinka who smiled at her.
"They are dull which is why most lords just rule their estates any way they want. There's no real central government like on Earth. Major disputes between lords can go before Lucifer but since he can actually destroy a demon forever, most don't bother him."
Buffy snorted into her wine.
Their neighbors left after a few hands of whist as their hall was less than two hours drive. The others played more games and drank brandy until they all headed to bed just after midnight, with plans for a late brunch and then hunting after noon the next day.
Head spinning slightly, Buffy crawled naked into bed with Angelus who, thanks to his vampire constitution, showed no effects of the three bottles of wine plus several snifters of brandy he'd put away on his own. Collapsing, her head on his shoulder, her arm over his chest, she snuffled against him for a minute before sighing.
"I hate corsets." She could breathe deeply again and, when she did, he smelled so good.
Angelus chuckled and started to comb his fingers through her hair.
"And hair pins. Oooh, that feels good," she moaned as he massaged the slight dents where the pins had dug in.
"What you put up with to look beautiful."
"I'm hoping we'll be in mini-skirts soon."
"Yeah, I can go for that."
She giggled. "You'd look silly in a mini-skirt...and stop rolling your eyes at me," she added, not even looking up but knowing he was doing it.
He snorted this time and they were silent for a few minutes before he asked, "Did you have fun tonight?"
"Yeah, I guess. I mean...Yeah."
"When we first arrived here you didn't think you'd ever be friends with a demon, but you are. You do like them, right?"
Buffy nodded against his chest, but frowned. "Where are you going with this?" As his fingers stilled in her hair, landing on her back, she looked up at him.
"I want you to be happy here. I am. With you."
He was so earnest, she felt her heart stutter. "I...Angel, I am happy here and really happy with you, but...I miss my home and my friends and my mom. I miss so much about home. Don't you?"
"No. And it's not just because Hell is my true home. We wouldn't be together on Earth. We'd be enemies again."
"We wouldn't have to be."
"You know my demon is happy here, that's why I can love you. Why I'm just not as evil as I used to be. I'm fine with that. I've accepted that I'm not the worst thing out there. I have friends here, too, and I'm going to get involved in what little politics exist here. Lord Timor is going to back me for local magistrate over the five villages in the Vale of Glendark. They're unincorporated and haven't had any governing in decades. I don't care about harvesting souls, torturing the damned. I like it here on our estate, making alliances with our neighbors, selling our crops as delicacies across Hell. I love hunting and riding and even going to court. I'm happy here."
Slowly Buffy rose to her knees beside him and Angelus pushed himself up against the headboard. "I'm content," she finally admitted. "Can't that be enough?"
"Only if you stop trying to get out."
She closed down--she could feel it happening and turned, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. She didn't rise, simply took several calming breaths. "I can't do that. I just can't. Something inside me needs to get home. I love you, I really do, but I'm not meant to be in Hell."
"You're doing a damn good job of fitting in," he growled back, making her shoulders slump.
"We have a good life here, why can't you see it?"
"I do, but it's just not...right. I'm not a demon."
When Angelus didn't respond, Buffy finally glanced over her shoulder and saw him frowning at her. "What?"
"You're not human either, not completely."
"Well, yeah, I'm a Slayer, but..."
"It's rumored that the origins of the Slayers are demonic."
She could feel herself paling, and shook her head in instant denial, but...A memory hit her, a comment from Lucifer that she'd never followed up on. She'd accused him of trying to turn her into a demon and he'd said...
"I have no need to turn you into anything."
And later he'd told her to read the history of the Slayers. He'd called her a...
"Demoness," she whispered in horror, her eyes widening as Angelus gave her a quizzical look. "Am I...?"
"Maybe a tiny bit of you. I don't care."
"I..." do? Frowning, she turned so that she was reclining next to him, propped up on the pillows and the headboard. "Maybe that's why I'm surviving."
A shudder went through her and he reached down to pull the blankets over them, then drew her closer to him. She slid down a bit, resting her head on his shoulder. "I still want to go home."
"I still say we are home. I don't think we're going to reach a consensus tonight."
"I think I'm still a bit drunk." She felt him smile as he turned to brush his lips over her forehead.
"Yeah, too serious talk for non-clear heads."
"I really, really do love you, though."
"Yeah, I know, Buffy," he murmured sliding down to cover her lips with his in a sweet, loving kiss.
"When we wake up and I'm no longer drunk, will you make love to me? Really slow and gentle and perfect?"
He smiled again. "Happy to oblige."
"I'm so glad we're not enemies. I never want that again," she mumbled sleepily.
"We never will be," Angelus promised, because he knew they'd never leave Hell.