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Love You to the Core

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Prologue

The day following the Apocalypse that Was Not

Roughly Midnight

 

In the millennia since her Fall, Hastur had done a lot of things to make her hell’s most feared duke.

Disobedience had never been one of them.

Well, to Her, yeah. That was sort of the point of Falling, wasn’t it?

But not to her. No, Beelzebub had something many had sought, but only two demons had ever gained: Hastur’s absolute respect and loyalty.

But, well, that was before some flashy little nobody had murdered the second said demon.

The slap of metal against demonic flesh echoed through the dingy corridor as Hastur stalked through the flickering florescent half-light.

It wasn’t Crowley’s duplicitousness that got to her. Oh, no. Demons betrayin’ each other to discorporation, that was the way of things, wasn’t it? But that was the watchword here: discorporation. Not—

Fuckin’ heaven. The way Ligur’d screamed. The way he’d grabbed that bucket and tried to tear it off his head like—

Hastur smashed her crowbar against the wall, shattering both the thought and the sheetrock.

“The bastard,” she snarled. “The fucking bastard!” The last word came out as a shriek that not even another blow to the wall could cover.

 

“No.”

The word was cold, final, loud in the chamber that Hastur’s underlings had built specifically for Crowley’s execution. And so was Beelzebub’s expression. You did not cross the prince of hell when she looked at you like that.

Not that Hastur wasn’t about to.

“You think I’m afraid of him?” Hastur asked, hand on her chest. She didn’t have a heart, not a proper one, but what she felt for Ligur was better than having one. And it was cracking and boiling over. “You think I’m afraid of that freak?”

“Has—”

“Because I ain’t!” she snarled. “No one else wants to? Fine. But I can take him. You’ll see, Your Lowness. One minute—one bloody second alone with him, and I’ll—”

Hastur!” Thunder snarled through the room as Beelzebub grabbed Hastur’s lapels and yanked her close; white flames coiled through her fingers, scorching the material as the flies encircled her head, their buzzing loud in the thunderclap’s wake.

“I will only say this once,” Beelzebub hissed. “You will leave the traitor alone. That is an order.”

“But Your L—”

“No. You are not above the rulezz, Duke Hastur!” Beelzebub shoved her away. “None of us are. And you are not the only demon I have to think about right now. Are we clear?”

Hastur’s lip trembled. But she refused to let it do anything more. Instead, she nodded once, stiffly, spun on her heel, and stormed away.

 

Of course, she’d lied.

That’s what dukes did.

And no disrespect to the boss, but frankly, on this one?

Beelzebub could shove it.

“I’m not the only demon she’s got to think about,” Hastur snarled as she swung the bar. Another chunk of sheetrock gave way. “Fuck her.”

Another swing. Another chunk.

“Fuck her. Fuck her. Fuck—”

“Now what’s got my best girl so upset?”

Hastur froze midswing.

No. It couldn’t be.

She’d seen it happen. Seen him— And—

“Surely it ain’t the wall, is it?”

She was losing her mind. Or what little was left of it.

“Can’t be the wall, I’m thinking.” The voice had started out in the alcove behind her. And now it was coming closer. “After all, what’s a wall ever done to you?”

Hastur tried to snort and failed. “Made me lick it, didn’t it?” she stammered out the usual rejoinder.

“Funny old wall.” And there was the usual answer.

“Please.” Hastur closed her eyes. “Please, if this is some prank, just—just whoever you are. Stop it. It’s not fair. It’s not—”

But when a pair of strong arms wrapped around her waist, she knew. And when a kiss was pressed against her neck, she knew it even more.

Her crowbar clattered to the floor as she turned in the embrace.

She didn’t know what to say. And it didn’t matter.

Because Ligur was here. And Ligur was holding her. And Ligur’s eyes were that beautiful dark green they turned whenever he—

Whenever he was thinking only of her.

With one great sob, Hastur threw her legs around his waist and slammed their lips together. Her eyes overflowed with thick, black tears as she sobbed into his mouth.

“Here, here now,” Ligur soothed, running a hand over his lover’s neck. “I’m here, darlin’. I’m here.”

“How?” Hastur croaked. “I—I saw it. I saw—I saw— Has it happened?” She stared into those green eyes. “Have I gone mad?”

“No, oh no,” Ligur reassured. “No madder than I am for you, anyway.”

“But I— I don’t understand how—”

“Shhh.” Ligur’s kiss was gentle, but not without just a little tendril of heat. “Plenty of time for that later. Need you now.”

“Mh, right here,” Hastur agreed, her hands all over his hair. His neck. His face. Oh, God, it was beautiful. He was beautiful. Everything about him.

How had she lasted one moment without him? How had she not thrown herself in front of Crowley’s spray bottle and insisted—demanded

“Shhh,” Ligur soothed with a kiss. “Can hear you thinkin’ in there. Don’t think now. Just let me love you. Let me take it all away.”

Somehow, the wall behind her was solid again. And her back was bare and pressed against it, and Ligur’s chest was equally bare and flush against her own. Smooth, so smooth and even, not scarred and bumpy as Hastur’s was. And his lips were all over her as his cock—

“Oh,” Hastur moaned, arching back against the wall. The sheetrock scraped like sandpaper across her back; she didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was Ligur, pushing into her again, and again, and again. Ligur whispering, “I’m here, sweetheart. I’m here. Never going nowhere again.” Over and over until Hastur came with a wail, spilling all over him, just as Hastur emptied his own heat inside her.

There was nothing to do then but to sink to the floor in a tangle of limbs and embraces, and sob as they held each other.

***

“Beelzebub, you know,” Ligur said later that night as they lay curled up in their bed. Not that demons needed sleep, of course, but well—tonight they were going to indulge.

“Hmm?” Hastur was too busy trailing lazy kisses along his neck to think too clearly just now, but since she had disobeyed the boss and all, this might be important.

“First thing I did when I— Well, reappeared, I guess you could say. First thing I did was look for you. Figured she’d know where to find you.”

“Yeah?”

“‘If you’re here for Hastur, you’ve just missed her,’ she told me, cool as you like. ‘She’s got a five-minutes start on you. You’d best run her down before she does something stupid, like confront the traitor who killed you. She’s taken the main tunnel to Trafalgar Square. You know how she is—familiar routs and all.’”

“She didn’t, ah, wonder how…?”

“Oh, she did. Told me I could tell us all later what had happened.” Ligur kissed the tip of her nose. “Oh, and one thing more. About you.”

Well, here it goes. “Something worse than discorporation, I reckon.”

“Hm, well. Her exact words were: ‘Speaking as the prince of hell, she should be cast into the pit for disobedience.’”

“Oh.” Hastur swallowed. Well. Fuck.

“No, no. Listen.” Ligur kissed her cheek. “‘But speaking as a fellow demon, I understand. But she’d best not make me understand like that again.’ Also, you’re to see her first thing. Something about seeing Dagon about reorganizing the Black Plague files.”

Hastur groaned. “Not those blessed things again!” They were the principal secretary’s never-ending project. No matter how she and her assistants filed and refiled, checked and rechecked, named and renamed, Dagon was never satisfied with them.

“Could be worse,” Ligur reminded her, running a hand up her chest. “Could be muckin’ out the hellhounds’ kennels.”

“I’d much prefer that,” Hastur grumbled. She rolled onto her side and peered up into his eyes. They were a lazy dark blue now, the way they always got when he was peaceful and content—well, content and peaceful as a demon could get.

Which was always when he was where he was now.

Her lips were trembling like reeds in the wind.

“It was the worst twenty-four hours of my life,” she whispered. “Horrible. Worse than anything. Worse than the Fall. Please. Don’t leave me again. Not like that. Not in any way. I couldn’t bear it. I—”

“Shh, I know, doll. I know. Whatever happens, we’ll not lurk near any churches again, yeah? At least not ones with fountains.” He winked at Hastur and elbowed her in the side.

“Yeah,” Hastur said, letting a smirk break through her tears. She flicked a few of them away. “Cathedrals too. They’re right out.”

“Christian bookshops.”

“Little pop-up chapels.”

“Anywhere with water, really,” Hastur decided. “Don’t know if it’s been blessed, do we?”

The possibility should have terrified Hastur—not that it didn’t, of course. But Ligur’s easy smile made an equally easy smile slide across her lips.

“No lakes, ponds, oceans—not even a puddle.” He pecked her lips. “Now, that’s settled? Good,” he said as Hastur nodded. “Because my best girl and me, we need to spend the night together, just as we are, doin’ what we’ve just done the last who knows how long. Everything else can wait, yeah?”

Oh that smile. So fierce and firm, and so very, very assured of everything.

“Mh, yeah,” Hastur agreed as she coiled herself around him and fell right into it.