Sean is more tense than Buffy has ever seen him.
She reaches over and squeezes his hand.
He glances down at her with a tight smile.
“Relax, babe. You’re damn near tense enough to woge and one plane crash is enough to last me a lifetime,” Buffy shudders.
Sean winces apologetically and takes a deep breath, intentionally untensing.
Buffy rewards him with a smile and a kiss before turning back to her book.
With their heightened senses, neither of them sleeps well on planes and it’s a relief when they land.
Sean frowns at the empty tarmac. “It’s not like the family to be late, and they did say they were sending a car, didn’t they?”
Buffy shrugs. “They did, and I’m sure they will, but I may have e-mailed the wrong flight plan.”
Sean quirks a brow at her. “How much later?”
“It’s, what, 11 am local time? Now did I put am or pm on that e-mail…”
“Right… and we’re getting to the palace, how, exactly?”
Buffy points to the side of the nearest hangar, where dark SUV is parked. “Had the Council send a car. We also have a room ready at the mansion.”
“You’re telling me we don’t have to risk the palace or an unsecured hotel room?”
Buffy fishes the keys to the SUV out from the wheel well and grins over her shoulder. “Unless you’d rather.”
“I love you.”
She smirks. “I know.”
He snags the keys from her hand. “But not enough to let you drive.”
Buffy sticks her tongue out at him, but crawls into the passenger seat without any real protest.
The drive to the Council mansion is comfortably silent. That comfort vanishes when Cordelia opens the door.
Shock flashes across her face for a fraction of a second before she woges and slams the door in their faces.
Buffy shakes of her own shock and bangs on the door. “Cordelia, open this damn door right fucking now before I break it down.”
The door inches open and Cordelia peeks out, normal face once again in place.
Buffy crosses her arms over her chest. “Two things… one, you’re a lot less dead than I was led to believe. And two, since when are you a Hexenbiest?”
Cordelia sighs and rolls her eyes as she pulls the door fully open. “Your damn Powers that Be decided I was too valuable to let die, so they brought me back as this thing and didn’t even have the decency to get rid of the damn visions while they were at it.”
“Riiight,” Buffy drawls. “Wanna maybe let us in and not have this conversation in the street?”
“Whatever,” Cordelia steps aside and waves them in. “Wait a second, who is Mr. Yummy here?”
Buffy shoots her an unimpressed glare. “Cordelia, meet my husband Sean. Sean, Cordelia is an old… friend.”
Sean gives a nod, but doesn’t go so far as to offer his hand. “Pleasure.”
Cordelia actually starts laughing. “You got married?”
“Why does everyone laugh about that?”
“What do Angel and Spike think of him?”
“We don’t talk about it.”
Sean’s phone rings before the conversation can continue.
“Don’t answer if it’s your family,” Buffy warns. “We’re supposed to be a plane right now as far as they’re concerned.”
Sean shakes his head. “It’s Nick.” He steps away as he answers the call. “Renard.”
One of the baby Slayers in residence, Kyra or Kyla, Buffy thinks, flits in long enough to wave and relieve them of their bags before they make their way to one of the common areas. Buffy doesn’t notice Cordelia’s baffled expression until Sean ends the call and joins her on the couch she’s sprawled on.
“What?” Buffy snaps.
Cordelia continues gaping. “You married a Royal?!”
“What do you know about the Royals?”
Cordelia rolls her eyes. “Are you kidding? The drama of the Royal families is what I live for since the stupid Powers brought me back. Do they have any idea that a Slayer married into the family?”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Sean answers. “Very few pay attention to the bastard prince’s activities.”
Cordelia’s eyes go wide and she bounces excitedly on the edge of her seat. “Oh my gosh, you’re that prince! That’s even better. Wait! Are you guys here for the funeral? Can I go with you?”
Buffy rolls her head across the arm of the couch to raise an eyebrow at Cordelia. “You’re actually asking to go to a funeral… for fun? We’re only going because King Asshat himself called and asked.”
“You’re just making me want to go more. The fricking king called his bastard son and asked him specifically to come back to the family for the crown prince’s funeral. And bastard son brings his Slayer wife, that I’m assuming the Royals know nothing about… you can’t make this stuff up. Yeah, I wanna go.”
Buffy looks up at Sean.
Sean shrugs. “My tendency toward association with hexenbiests isn’t exactly a secret.”
Cordelia scrunches her nose in distaste. “Um, excuse me do I look like a bodyguard?”
“Like the type of bodyguard Sean employs? Absolutely,” Buffy smirks. “Do you wanna go or not?”
Cordelia rolls her eyes. “Fine.”
Buffy fights not to sneer at her reflection. The dress is gorgeous, gray lace overlaying deep red silk with a scoop neck and wide skirt and matched with red pumps. She’s pretty sure the combination of her dress and shoes cost more than her first apartment after Sunnydale.
Sean laughs when she says so out loud. He steps up behind her and settles his hands on her waist dropping a light kiss to her shoulder. “Maybe, but you look lovely. And we are trying to make an impression.”
She turns in his arms to straighten his tie. “Yeah, yeah.”
“This was your idea, remember?”
Buffy shrugs. “Yeah. Politics… so not my schtick, but this is pretty obviously the time for a power play. Ready?”
Buffy lifts her skirt to reveal stakes strapped to one thigh and an assortment of silver blades to the other. “And Willow charmed my jewelry. Speaking of which,” she turns and grabs a pair of ruby cufflinks, “these are for you. Shields, essentially. Both physical and magical. Not that I think they’ll try anything, but…”
He holds his arms out and lets her replace his current cufflinks. “Better safe than sorry.”
Buffy keeps fiddling with his cuffs.
He twists his hands to take hold of hers. “Look at me.”
She glances up grudgingly.
He cups her cheek. “We’re prepared for this. Everything will be fine.”
“I still wish we could just go to the funeral and avoid the family dinner.”
“They’re not expecting us at the family dinner.”
Buffy rolls her eyes. “Power play. I’m fine. Just whining.”
Cordelia’s voice follows a bang on the door. “We’re gonna be late!”
“Coming, coming! Geez,” Buffy groans.
“Holy shit, you grew up here?” Cordelia asks, craning her neck to see as much of the palace as possible.
“No,” Sean answers tightly. “I grew up in a boarding school and on the run.”
Cordelia winces. “Right, sorry.”
“The family isn’t taking any audiences tonight,” the gate guard informs their driver.
Sean clamps down the urge to roll his eyes and rolls his window down instead.
The guard snaps to attention. “Your highness, we didn’t expect you until later tonight.”
“We caught an earlier flight,” Sean drolls.
“Of course, sir. You could have sent for a car.”
“We’d already arranged one. Now, are you going to open the gate or is this going to be a scene?”
“Right away, your highness, my apologies.”
Sean rolls his window up, the gate opens, and Buffy starts laughing.
Sean raises an eyebrow at her.
“Sorry,” she snorts, “I just realized I’m actually a princess.”
“We’ve been married how many years now and you’re just making the connection?” Sean asks fondly.
Cordelia rolls her eyes. “You’re gonna mess your makeup up if you don’t quit it.”
Buffy takes a deep breath, quickly getting herself under control. “Sorry, sorry, I know. But this is laugh worthy. Like, Harmony-having-minions type laugh worthy. I’ve been married to this asshole for years and I just freaking realized I’m an actual princess. That’s Harmony-level stupid.”
“Wait,” Cordelia holds a hand up. “Harmony had minions?”
Buffy rolls her eyes. “Yeah. Briefly. It was hysterical.”
“I can’t believe I missed that,” Cordelia groans as the car pulls to a stop.
Sean takes a deep breath. “Everyone ready?”
Buffy and Cordelia both sober and nod.
Cordelia steps out first, taking her role as bodyguard seriously, despite her initial protests. Sean follows and offers Buffy a hand out. Buffy controls her features just enough to not gape at the opulent halls around them as a housekeeper leads them toward the dining room. Shocked silence fills the room when they’re announced, and Buffy can’t quite hold back the smug grin.
She’s a little shocked herself, though, when King Frederick himself is the first to rise to greet them. “Sean, my son! Welcome! I do wish your return were under better circumstances.”
“Father.” Sean accepts his father’s handshake with the arm not caught in Buffy’s death grip. “As do I.”
“You should have let us know of your change of plans. We would have sent a car! Setting a few extra plates at supper is simple enough, but your rooms aren’t even prepared yet!”
Sean’s smile is tight. “All greatly appreciated, but we made our own arrangements.”
Frederick frowns. “Son, you’re of royal blood, freshly back to the country after an assassination. Surely you can lay old grievances aside for the security of the palace.”
Buffy scoffs and shoots a pointed glance at the woman still seated to the right of the king’s place at the table. “Right, because staying in the same place as the woman who tried to have you killed as a child offers such a sense of security.”
Frederick has the grace to look at least a little ashamed, but he covers it well. “And this must be the charming wife your brother told me about. Anne, wasn’t it? I’ll freely admit I’m rather curious about you. Won’t you join us?”
The dinner table is surprisingly intimate. Round - there’s a joke there somewhere, Buffy thinks - and heavily laden with food. There are far fewer in attendance than Buffy had expected. The king and his wife, a blonde that Buffy can’t shake the sense she should recognize, a man who looks so much like Wesley that Buffy and Cordelia are both struggling not to stare, and a few others whose whole demeanor scream ‘advisors’.
They’re served quickly and efficiently, and Buffy has to admit serving the same food to everyone off tray on the table is a pretty good way to assuage fear of poisoning.
“Sean,” Frederick prompts once everyone’s settled, “aren’t you going to introduce us?”
“I’m Cordelia,” Cordelia offers cheerily.
“She’s a friend,” Sean offers.
The blonde sneers and Cordelia rolls her eyes back.
Adalind, Buffy’s mind finally makes the connection as she takes a few delicate bite of an admittedly delicious chicken dish.
“And Anne, wasn’t it?” Frederick asks, in an obvious attempt to head off the tension. “I must admit, my dear, that you’ve somewhat frustrated some of those in the family’s employ. Before this tragedy, Eric had ordered, well, not to be crass, but…”
“Ordered my privacy invaded and my secrets unearthed?” Buffy guesses.
“Not in so many words, but essentially, well, yes. They came up with surprisingly little.”
Buffy snorts delicately. “Probably because they didn’t have a real name to go on.”
Frederick looks at her expectantly.
Buffy takes a sip of her wine. “Did you run the plates on our car?”
Frederick looks at a guard stationed near the door.
“Registered to a corporation called I.C.W., sire,” the guard answers the king’s unasked question.
Frederick turns back to Buffy, surprised enough to let it show, however briefly. “International Watcher’s Council. You’re a Watcher?”
Cordelia lets out a very unladylike guffaw, which she attempts to cover with her wine glass.
Frederick turns to the brunette. “Something funny?”
Cordelia’s expression turns stony. “First of all, don’t sneer at me like I’m gum on your shoe. I’ve faced off against worse than the likes of you. Second of all,” she flicks her gaze briefly to Buffy, who nods so slightly it’s almost not noticeable, “does she look like a Watcher to you?”
Frederick turns a more calculating gaze on Buffy. “Slayer, then?”
“Slayer, comma, The,” Buffy agrees with a toast of her wine glass.
“I was under the impression there were many of you these days,” the Wesley-look-alike finally joins the conversation.
“You,” Cordelia points at him, “don’t talk. It’s creepy.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Cordelia visibly shudders. “You look disturbingly like someone I like, and I already don’t like you, so just don’t.”
Buffy raises a hand slightly. “I second that, actually.”
The Wesley-look-alike bristles, but the king waves him back. “Relax, Viktor. I’m sure they don’t mean anything by it.” He turns back to Buffy. “He does have a point, however. Slayers are a dime a dozen these days, my dear.”
Buffy laughs brightly. “What part of Slayer, comma,The is so hard to understand?”
Cordelia rolls her eyes. “She’s top bitch, your highness. Alpha Slayer.”
Frederick stops just shy of gaping.
Buffy offers a jaunty little wave to the table at large, fork in hand. “Hi, Buffy Summers. I’d say pleased to meet you, but my mother always told me lying was bad.”
Frederick turns to Sean. “You’re going to let her speak to your family like that?”
Sean sets his fork aside and meets his father’s eyes. “I married a Slayer,the Slayer, Father, not a socialite. One of my favorite qualities is her tendency to do precisely what she wants. It’s simultaneously endearing and infuriating, but she’s her own woman, and I don’t let her do anything.”
Buffy beams at him and nearly falls out of her chair in the process of smacking an exaggerated kiss on his cheek. “Love you too, sweetie.”
“Gag,” Cordelia wrinkles her nose.
Buffy flips her off. “You’re just jealous… unless you’re still boning my ex. Or was that just a pre-resurrection thing?”
Frederick clears his throat pointedly.
Buffy grimaces. “Right. Sorry. Anyway, where were we?”
“Apparently talking about my husband’s bastard marrying up in the world,” the queen finally joins the conversation.
“Okay, you,” Buffy points at the older woman, “really don’t get to speak in my presence. Ever. Or I will show you precisely why you damn Royals are so insistent on staying on my Council’s good side.”
Frederick shoves to his feet. “You will show the proper respect, or you will leave my home.”
Buffy smiles, and it’s not a pretty thing - too many teeth, the predator in her blood flashing to the surface, and leans back in her chair, looking for all the world like she’s perfectly at ease in the face of the regent’s anger. “King Frederick, since we’re on the topic of social hierarchies and respect, I have a few points to make. One, I don’t give a damn about your skeezy son of a bitch heir dying a fiery death. Quite frankly, I had some of my less savory friends waiting for him in the palace. His car blowing up was a far more pleasant death, I promise you. He-”
Buffy shoots to her feet as well. “Yes, I dare! Eric crossed a line when he went after our Grimm. Wipe the surprise off your face. We both know you knew, which brings me to my second point. Burkhardt is ours. Lay hands on him again and you will live only long enough to regret it.”
“I’ve heard many things about you, Miss Summers, but one thing is consistent. The Alpha Slayer does not kill humans.”
Buffy shrugs. “There are exceptions to every rule. I’m older and wiser these days, and being human doesn’t mean you can’t be a monster. And besides that, I have very loyal friends who have no problem killing humans.”
Cordelia almost flings chicken across the table when she lifts her hand. “Hell, I’d do it for a few pairs of the right shoes.”
Buffy smirks. “See? My third and final point is this, we don’t want the throne.”
Frederick sits back down abruptly. “I beg your pardon?”
Sean stands, angling himself just over Buffy’s shoulder. “We don’t. I’m perfectly happy with my city. The family will, however, cease operating in my city. Immediately.”
“You will also stay out of Los Angeles and Cleveland,” Buffy continues. “Those are my cities. You just lost your only true heir. Your only two options at this point are a bastard son who doesn’t want your throne and some cousin who wants it too badly.”
“The family’s power is stable enough for now,” Sean picks up, “but your hold will grow more tenuous as times goes on. The more stable your relationship with the I.C.W. the more stable your power. It’s basic politics.”
“In other words, you really can’t afford to piss me off,” Buffy summarizes. “We’re here through tomorrow, we’ll put our sad faces on.”
“And then we will be on our way, and you will respect our demands.”
“Your treaty with the Council depends on it.”
“Why didn’t I bring popcorn?” Cordelia laments.
Adalind rolls her eyes. “Oh, fuck off. Who are you, anyway?”
Cordelia woges and Adalind jerks back hard enough her chair almost topples over.
The blonde sneers at Sean. “I see it didn’t take long to replace me.”
Sean smirks. “You say that like you thought it would be hard.”
Adalind’s face goes red, but she remains wisely silent.
Buffy barely catches the odd expression on Cordelia’s face as her human visage slides back into place, but files it away for later. “Well, why don’t we make our goodbyes before this gets really awkward?”
“So?” Buffy prompts as they pull away from the palace.
Cordelia shoots her a Look, but there’s no heat behind it and she gives in almost immediately, clearly latching on to the opportunity to up the drama. “Blonde and bitchy is pregnant.”
Buffy gapes before turning a clear stink-eye on Sean.
Sean holds his hands up in a classic surrender gesture. “Why would I want her when I have you?”
Buffy nods. “Good answer.”
“What if she looked like Buffy?” Cordelia asks.
Both gape at her.
Cordelia shrugs. “She was a hexenbiest. It’s a possibility.”
Buffy whips around to glare at Sean again. “When’s the last time you saw me before that whole obsession mess?”
“New Years,” Sean answers promptly.
Buffy nods. “Yup. Not Sean’s kid.”
Buffy narrows her eyes at her husband. “Unless what?”
Sean shrugs uncomfortably. “For lack of a better term, magical artificial insemination. There was a time when she was around me often enough to get what she would need. Hair, skin… blood, even.”
“Or it could be Eric’s.”
“It could be.”
Buffy sighs. “But we can’t discount that it could be yours.”
“I so wish I had popcorn,” Cordelia bursts out.
“You’re the worst,” Buffy whines, slumping into Sean’s side.
Cordelia shrugs unrepentantly.