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Parley

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They'd sent Buffy to Lilah Morgan on the grounds that Angel couldn't talk to her without going for the neck, the woman held Gunn and Fred (and thus any of Buffy's people) in contempt, and it would be cruel to expect Wesley to deal with his former lover turned Underworld snitch extraordinaire. Besides which, Buffy suspected, everyone wanted to see who would come out on top in a Slayer vs. Evil Lawyer catfight.

So Buffy had gone, expecting the worst and had been pleasantly surprised to see everyone had overreacted.

It was a draw so far. Introductions had been civil, but Lilah had immediately noticed that Buffy wanted Lilah to do something for her and had immediately pounced on that need like the predator she was.

"I'm afraid you've come a long way for nothing," the dead woman said with a sigh. "I'm not what you need, Miss Summers. You're looking for a potential ally, secretly longing to be good. That's not what I am."

"So you're what, exactly?" Buffy asked. "A victim? Tragically misunderstood?"

There was an amused pause.

"Did Wesley say that?" Lilah asked. "It couldn't have been Angel. Actually, it sounds more like Lorne. But now I'm curious. What *did* Angel say about me, Miss Summers? I'm sure it was entertaining."

"Angel says you're probably the devil," Buffy said. "I think he was exaggerating."

"Angel? Come now, Miss Summers," Lilah replied, aping a Wesley speech mannerism. Buffy wondered if the woman realized she did it. "You might see him with big schmoopy love eyes, but even you've got to know Angel's profoundly literal. Like a big blunt instrument to the head."

Buffy couldn't help it; she laughed. Because Lilah was right -- Angel? Not big with the metaphor. He wasn't stupid, exactly. He just tended to view things without much complexity, which Buffy didn't mind. Complex thinkers tended to be smiling, dangerous creatures like the one sitting in front of her in a suit that cost more than Buffy's rent.

"Still," Buffy said, reminding herself she wasn't here to discuss Angel with tall, dark, and evil. "I don't get your deal. You're dead, right? And you went to Hell."

"Sort of," Lilah replied, wrinkling her nose. "It's the Hell office of Wolfram and Hart, which is slightly different than the pit itself. Fewer burning lakes of fire and medieval torture devices, more ironic punishments and subtle torments. Think the episode of The Simpsons where they kept feeding Homer donuts."

Evil, witty, and pop-culture-savvy. No wonder Angel thought she was dangerous. He'd probably been too busy giving her the subtle once-over to realize he was getting played at first, because if he could fall for, ye gods, CORDELIA, then he would have found Lilah a complete hottie. Angel had an evil brunette fetish and this one wore four-inch Manolo Blahniks with a smile.

Buffy had to admit that she was not inclined to be particularly fair when it came to potential Angel booty. He'd had two hundred years to get with evil hotties. Now he didn't need to get involved with anything that could shimmy like *that* when dead.

"So how do they punish you?" Buffy asked. "After all, you were big with the sinning and small with the remorse. I'm sure you've got all sorts of ironic punishments going on."

Lilah smirked as though Buffy had said something particularly naive.

"They send earnest little goody-goodies to entreat me for help in their idiotic schemes without even *mentioning* how the love of my life is doing," she replied coolly, lighting a cigarette and leaving Buffy to feel like a callow bitch. The sight of the thing held carefully between Lilah's long, neatly manicured fingers made Buffy's mouth water a little. Spike had always tasted of cigarettes, the faint echo of ash and nicotine that she'd gotten used to, that she had been comforted by in days long gone. "You don't mind if I smoke, do you? It's not like it's going to kill me."

"That's fine," said Buffy, watching the cigarette in Lilah's hand as it moved in a graceful arc to Lilah's lips. Realized that she'd been relaxed by the very deadness of the woman sitting across from her, and it made Buffy's skin crawl even as she kept watching. "So are you going to help or not? Wes thinks it might be a way to appeal your contract and get free."

"He does, does he?" Lilah asked, narrowing her eyes slightly as she exhaled. "Maybe I don't want to be rescued from my contract. Have you or my ex-boyfriend thought of that? I don't need saving. I don't want to be saved."

She was so pretty, Buffy was thinking, and hard. The way Spike had been pretty and hard, all smiles and seduction and under that faint flicker of wit, something harsh, something alien, and utterly desirable. This one (and had it been Fred who'd muttered, "That one? That one can get you whatever you want, if you're willing to pay her price"?) knew something about power and death and ugliness.

"What do you want, then?" Buffy asked, standing up. She was aware that she was trembling slightly and her gaze was still mostly focused on Lilah's mouth, fingers, and slowly burning cigarette. "Name your price. I need what you can give me, and I'm willing to pay."

That statement earned Buffy a slyly raised eyebrow and a long, sensual drag of the cigarette, followed by a languid half-smile and silk-stocking-clad legs crossing almost demurely.

"I thought you were a stern, unbending champion of good," Lilah purred, rising to her feet with that inhuman grace that only the dead could master. Buffy was again reminded of Spike -- and of Darla. Even, a little, of Angel. The not-so-hidden menace concealed by a beautiful face was very much like Angel's, Buffy felt. "Your kind rarely pays the price I require."

"Are you calling me a liar?" Buffy asked, letting herself get angry. "I can pay your price, because it doesn't matter. Releasing Spike from the bond with Angel, that's more important. Saving true champions and helping the girls, that's worth whatever filthy little task you think will humiliate me. Maybe you think everyone's a hypocrite, but that's because you're so small that--"

Lilah held up her free hand. "Please. Slayer?" she asked, sounding bored. "I've got ten, twelve years on you. And I have felt things you will never feel, like the mortal terror that sets in when a champion who has already locked you in a wine cellar to DIE with his favorite insane vampire children, threatens to rape you and make you beg. Don't talk to me about hypocrisy, Buffy. I've walked through hell in high heels and a smile -- and you can't even read the map."

"So you are a victim," Buffy said with a sneer. "Good to know that you're not evil, just traumatized."

"Hardly," Lilah retorted. "But what I *don't* need the pep talk from you. I got it from Cordelia before she went evil and slammed a big knife into my throat. You'll pay the price? No matter what it is?"

"I'll pay," Buffy replied contemptuously. "Name it."

"Tell me all about how Wesley's doing," Lilah began, an expression of wistfulness flitting across her face like a shadow, gone before Buffy could confirm it. "Then give me a kiss. A real kiss."

Of course. The evil people and the degrading sex stuff. It was so incredibly predictable and it made Buffy sick. But a promise was a promise, even if it was a lame, stupid price to promise.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "And I suppose then you want me to fuck you?"

"Grow up," Lilah said coldly. "If I wanted you to fuck me, I'd tell you so. I have a theory. I need you to kiss me to prove it. That's all."

With that, she took another drag on the cigarette and looked at Buffy with empty, almost metallic eyes.

"Fine," Buffy said. "Wesley. Geez, I don't get your thing for him."

"Clearly, you haven't ever fucked him," Lilah answered dryly. "Also, you think Angel is the height of love muffin, so let's just agree to disagree on what makes a man worth the time of day."

"Agreed," Buffy said. "Wesley looks...good, for Wes. He's shaving again. His clothes are less dorky than when I last saw him. He's still too skinny and stuff. But he's not dating anyone...that girl, Naomi? The one from Marketing? She couldn't deal with his massive *you* thing. And he continues to have a big old-fashioned pining for evil dead girlfriend thing. Like, when Angel went off on his, 'Lilah's the devil and we shouldn't trust her' thing, he totally dissociated from the convo. And then he had to leave. He's still massively in love with you and not dealing. Is that what you wanted to know?"

To Buffy's surprise, Lilah looked troubled to hear that. "Naomi was hot AND emotionally mature," she said. "Hmmf. Maybe he'll find someone better, though I doubt it. Could you tell him that...well, don't tell him anything. Just tell him I'm keeping up on him."

"Sure," Buffy said. "Wow. You two really have the big doomed love going, huh?"

"Bigger and more doomed than even you and Angel," Lilah agreed flippantly. "So condition the first fulfilled. Just one to go."

The forgotten cigarette smoldered in a nearby ashtray. Buffy, winding up her courage, walked over to it and took the cigarette between her own fingers. The filter was stained by Lilah's burgundy lipstick and Buffy got a strange charge out of sticking the cigarette in her own mouth and taking a puff.

It tasted like death and vampires and excitement. Buffy exhaled and watched Lilah size her up. After a moment of enduring that gaze, Buffy felt herself to be scrawny, plain, and utterly lacking next to the dead woman and her proportionate curves and graceful motions. This creature looking at her was Woman, the special classic kind that drove Italian directors to film and French poets to special poetry. She outclassed Buffy by several hundred degrees, and Buffy, not used to knowing it, wanted to tell Lilah to stuff her kiss and her help.

"I wonder if he knows how much you love him," Buffy said without thinking, the smoke tickling her lungs.

"He knows," Lilah said shortly. "That's the tragedy of it, little girl. We figured out just how much we love each other after we couldn't do a damn thing to change the fact."

Her slender hand reached out and found Buffy's cheek. It was cold, but Buffy had expected cold. What she hadn't expected was the softness of that skin, of the way she'd respond to the touch with eyes drifting closed and mouth falling open.

Buffy whimpered. It was not a scared whimper.

The hand stopped moving and rested unoppressively against Buffy's cheek.

"Oh," Lilah said very softly in her velvet murmur of a voice. "That's very interesting."

"Is it?" Buffy asked, forcing her eyes open. "Faith warned me about you, you know. Told me how you operate. Speaking of, is there anyone I know who you haven't tried to bang?"

Lilah grinned. "You know, I did have a chance to run away with Drusilla and live forever, but somehow the idea of spending eternity with a raving loony? Not my idea of romantic," she replied, her teeth showing as she shrugged. "You're stalling, Buffy."

She was a serpent wearing couture, Buffy decided. Cold and dry and waiting so unemotionally for one meaningless kiss. Her tongue would flicker against Buffy's cheek dryly and it would be icky. It wouldn't be like Spike or Angel, the blood so close that Buffy could almost lick it off their skin like salt. Lilah was a different kind of dead. The creepy kind of dead. Creepier kind of dead, because all dead was creepy and damn it, she was just going to kiss her already and be done with the whole mess.

Buffy leaned up and Lilah leaned down and then, oh God, then, Lilah was getting her one kiss and she was cold but not dry at all. There was the cigarette taste Buffy had expected and wanted, but Lilah wasn't like Spike at all. She was something else entirely, something not entirely alien and Buffy kissed harder, hoping to taste blood or bile or something that wouldn't make her heart race because Lilah was something familiar that Buffy missed, that Buffy wanted badly.

That Buffy knew in herself and hated and needed.

Witch, devil, bitchmonster nightmare queen, she was pulling them into her leather chair and Buffy's body betrayed her and fell right into the other woman's lap, kissing teeth and lips and the tip of that hidden serpent tongue, trying to force that dead mouth further open with her living tongue.

"Do the other goody-goodies know you're a bona fide necrophiliac?" Lilah finally whispered into Buffy's damp ear, the hiss of her superfluous breathing teasing the delicate hairs. "Very interesting. You like it cold and hard. Which I can respect, but it's still fascinating how many heroes like it dirty."

"Angel was right," Buffy replied, repelled and still undoing the top button on Lilah's expensive blouse. "You're the devil."

"Out of the mouths of babes and morons," Lilah said cheerfully, politely but firmly removing Buffy's hands from her blouse. "I told you I just wanted a kiss. That was plenty. You can go now."

Buffy knew that by all rights, she needed to get out of Lilah's lap, be very grateful that Lilah had kept her word, and leave. But her mouth kept talking, regardless of the reprieve.

"You don't want...?" Buffy asked, feeling confused. That had been a kiss about more. About evil, nasty, filthy Lilah manipulating Buffy into nudity and liaisons that Angel and Spike would disapprove of. And probably Wesley, too.

"Well, I do like Slayer, but I'm not in the mood for resentful amateur hour," Lilah replied diffidently. "You really can go. My secretary will make all the arrangements for both sides."

"But--" and Buffy stopped. She needed to leave the chair now. Wasn't moving. Buffy's brain wanted to know why Evil Miss Thing wasn't exploiting the situation, because that's what evil did. Evil took advantage of people's need and turned it into hot meaningless sex.

Buffy's body was just aching for more touch. Lilah wasn't playing fair.

"But what?" Lilah asked disingenuously, her lips curving into a nasty smile. "There are plenty of vampires who want to take advantage of that kink of yours, Miss Summers. And I'm not interested in playing your game."

Buffy moved away from Lilah so fast that she found herself sitting on the floor for a few seconds before rising to her feet angrily.

"Go to hell," she said without thinking. Lilah raised her hands and gestured about helplessly.

"Been there, doing that," Lilah said, getting to her feet and smiling at Buffy. "Now I really am quite busy, so I'll just show you out and you can run back and tell everyone how very helpful I was. My people will be in contact."

Buffy wanted to say something nasty, but there really wasn't anything left to say that made Buffy look like anything other than an idiot. Fuck you for not sexually exploiting me? I think I wanted you to do unspeakable things to me -- did you not get the hint? Thanks for making your price so low and relatively reasonable for helping Spike and the Slayers, you evil bitch?

"Right," Buffy said. "Thanks for the help."

"You're welcome," Lilah replied. "Just keep in mind the *next* time you ask, it'll cost more."

Buffy didn't shiver. That would be giving away too much. She merely swallowed discreetly and faked a sneer. "And what makes you think I'd bother coming back here?" she asked.

"Why, for the chance to help an unrepentant sinner see the light while selling out her evil, evil coworkers," Lilah drawled, opening the door for Buffy. "That's the Good-and-Plentys for you. Always willing to suffer in the name of someone else's salvation."

"Until then," Buffy said with the last flickers of false bravado. "Good luck."

With that, Buffy fled, feeling like a complete idiot as her heart pounded and her breathing tried to return to normal. Good luck? Lilah was in HELL and apparently had no desire to be rescued from it. There had been no reason to wish her luck.

Someone should have warned her. Angel or Wesley should have been clearer that Lilah played dirty, knew you better than you knew yourself and played that against you. Buffy wanted to scream at Wesley, but obviously it was something one never quite expected, the ability of someone so openly nasty to get under the skin.

And now? Now Buffy would be back. It had been spun so nicely for her, too. The devil wanted Buffy to redeem her for such a low and easily paid price -- Buffy bit her lip.

She wouldn't go back. She couldn't. No matter what Lilah had been promising, some prices were just too high to pay.

Running her tongue over her lips to get the last traces of Lilah's lipstick from her lips, Buffy made her way to the elevator. Lilah had won the battle, fair and square, but Buffy? Buffy was going to win the war by refusing to play the game.