Author's Note: I'll include one shots about Teo and Serena's first day of class with Professor Anita in a bit, it just doesn't fit here and I promised not to get distracted again.

Also, this is going to be a little jerky. Because we need to move on if we're going to end this in a couple chapters. Be ready for fast-forward. Also, this one is extra long so we could fit that last train-wreck in.

On a completely unsolicited note, I would encourage people looking for a laugh to check out Simon's Cat on YouTube. Cat lovers and caretakers can certainly relate but it's funny for everybody.

Funny thought: We had 666 visitors on 8-6. Weird.

Disclaimer: I do not own Kuroshitsuji or any of it's characters. I only claim Serena and Asta, as well as the descendants and demons that I introduce.

A Demon's Mate

Chapter Forty Eight

Settling into the little house by the lake, Serena and the demons had developed a routine. Lucien would wake her and Noir while Edwin got breakfast together. Afterward, Noir would want out to explore the woods, and Serena believed, to hunt his own breakfast, as he wouldn't take food from her. Meanwhile the red head closed herself into the studio space Sebastian had provided and work on one of two large canvases that she had set up. Lunch was break time, where the demons seemed to coax her out and Teo would stop by for a few hours. Serena had finally convinced Edwin and Lucien that she could swim enough to let her in the lake, with them of course. It had taken a minute for her to stop blushing after seeing both of them in just shorts the first time...and a couple times after that. Leading her to wonder if they had always been that perfect or if turning into demons had made them so appealing. Teo would frequently be the first one in the water, trying to make a bigger splash each time and the two older demons would make Serena wait until the water calmed down. When there were others at the lake, the red head had a feeling that Edwin was radiating his patented 'back off,' that allowed them to be in peace.

Not very often, Teo would convince Serena and the other demons to go into town, either for shopping or to see a movie. It was the first trip that she learned of the garage a short distance from the house. Sebastian hadn't wanted to ruin the feel of the little cottage and had built the garage separately. She had stared at the vehicles that were available and Lucien informed her that the Elder hadn't been sure of her preference and had purchased one of each style. Serena had laughed when she noticed that they were all black.

Teo would normally stay while dinner was prepared before making his way back to whatever the Elder had ordered him to do. After the meal, Noir would make another appearance, much to Serena's delight. The cat was her companion as she went back into the studio until a walk through the woods before bed. Nights that it rained, Serena would opt for a relaxing bath in her copper tub before sliding into bed. She was a little surprised the first time Noir jumped into the tub as it was filling and played into the water until it was a few inches deep before climbing out to lay on the edge.

The first day of classes was fast approaching and Serena was finding more and more things that she was missing from her stored belongings. Edwin had reminded her that they could purchase anything that she was needing. She had reminded him that money didn't grow on trees and he had informed her that the Elder had spent decades on earth waiting for her and in that time, had amassed more than enough money that he would love her to spend.

Unwilling to back down, Serena finally called her mother and made arrangements to pick up her things.

As they drove into town, the red head grew more and more quiet. Both demons felt the tension that permeated the car and frequently looked into the backseat. Serena didn't notice as she was too lost in her own head. Edwin finally had enough and looked in the mirror as the red head chewing on her thumbnail.

"My lady, is there something that we should be concerned about?"

Serena stared at him for a minute. "What would have happened if you hadn't wanted to be a soldier?"

"I'm sorry?"

"When you were human. What would have happened if you hadn't wanted to be a soldier?"

Edwin was quiet, moving easily through traffic as he thought about her question. "I probably would have been killed during sparring practice. My family would have grieved but not thought much of it. I had seven brothers for them to worry about. They would simply thought it the will of the gods and moved on."

Serena looked back out the window as they drove down a familiar street. "Yeah. It hasn't changed much."

Both demons shared a look as Edwin pulled up to the curb in front of a pretty brick, two-story house. Serena stared with dread at the paver pathway to the front door that was lined with summer flowers, her mother's work. It was a perfectly normal house that was surrounded by normal houses. Neither Edwin, nor Lucien could understand the fear from the backseat.

Serena let out a sigh and pulled the handle on the door. Lucien started to get out and she stopped.

"Lucien, could you stay here?" She looked at the house again. "I'd rather not make this any more difficult than it needs to be."

The blonde blinked at her, unsure whether to be offended or not. "If that is what you wish."

She nodded and got out of the car as Lucien shut his door again. Edwin tossed the keys to the blonde and went around to escort(push) Serena up the sidewalk. When they got to the door, she didn't want to knock so the demon did it for her.

A woman in her forties with perfectly dyed and styled blonde hair answered. She smiled as soon as she saw Serena and pushed the storm door open. Everything about Amelia Walton was as perfect as the house around her. The pretty blue button down went nicely with her pressed white slacks and matching sandals. Her nails were manicured and sported only clear polish as she held her hands out for Serena. The blonde had a few inches on her daughter and smiled as she brushed the girl's hair back.

"You look good. I didn't know you were back in the country yet."

Serena tried to smile. "Yeah, my semester starts next week."

"Oh," the woman clasped her hands together. "Good for you. Who's your friend?"

"This is Edwin. He's my new roommate." Serena caught the raised eyebrow from her mother as she pulled Edwin forward.

"Edwin Phillips, it's a pleasure to meet you."

"It's nice to meet one of Serena's friends. We don't very often." She looked to her daughter before going back to Edwin. "Oh, what am I thinking? Come in, come in."

They followed into the house, past the perfect living room made to entertain and into the white kitchen where an older man in uniform sat at the white granite island. Serena jumped a little when she saw his imposing frame, with it's familiar hard face and gray that was beginning to take over his short cut hair, before swallowing hard.

"Dad, I didn't think that you would be home."

"Otherwise you would have picked another time to come, right?" He took a sip of his coffee as Serena looked away and stood to look at Edwin. "Are you going to introduce us or just leave him standing there?"

The red head sighed. "Edwin Phillips, this is my father, Samuel Walton." She caught the look from her father. "Major Samuel Walton."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir." Edwin didn't bother to smile as he shook the man's hand. Now he knew why she had wanted Lucien to stay in the car.

"To you as well. So, what brings you trailing after my wayward daughter?"

"You make it sound like I ran away for a few years and lived on the streets."

"You certainly took off fast enough as soon as you could."

Serena crossed her arms over her chest. "Gee, I wonder why."

He looked her over. "At least you haven't dyed your hair purple again."

Amelia laid a hand on Edwin's arm with a smile and raised her voice to cut Serena off. "Would you like a cup of coffee."

"I wouldn't want to impose."

"Of course you're not." She walked easily to the pot and took a mug from the cupboard above. Everything was in order, all the mugs and glasses and stemware matched, setting in perfect space to one another. "How do you like it?"

"Black's fine, ma'am."

"Straight-forward." The Major waved them to a seat and resumed his own.

A noise from the living room made them all look as a younger man came into the room. The younger version of the Major smiled as he saw Serena and pulled the red head into a hug.

"Hey, Sis. Mom said you were coming over." He moved to swing the smaller girl around with a laugh.

"Sam."

One word from his mother and her brother put Serena down. "Right, be careful with the delicate artist."

He missed her glare as he took his own cup from their mother with a nod of thanks and leaned against the island.

"I got accepted to The Academy. Start next fall."

Serena smiled. "That's great. Congratulations." She looked at both her parents and took a deep breath. "I'm about to start my last year."

Samuel scoffed as he took another sip of coffee. "Maybe you can start living in reality then and see what a worthless degree does for you."

"My degree is not worthless."

"An art degree. What are you going to do with that?" He set his cup down, ready for war.

"There's plenty that I can do."

"Like what?"

"My adviser is pushing for character design for a gaming company."

"Great. So you're going to promote this generation that runs into a game instead of doing something with themselves." He stared at her as she looked away again. "You could have done so much more with your grades."

"I like what I'm doing," she ground out.

"Really? Don't seem very proud of it. You can't even look someone in the eye when you tell them what you're doing."

"Maybe because I'm sick of this argument."

"There wouldn't be an argument if you listened to me to begin with."

Serena crossed her arms again, knowing that this was going nowhere. "Can we just get the boxes?"

The Major waved his cup toward the door at the other end of the kitchen. "Feel free to run away again."

"Thank you."

Serena didn't look back as she stomped to the door and threw it open to show the stairs leading to the basement. Edwin bowed his head to her family as he set his cup back on the counter and followed more slowly.

By the time he was down the stairs, Serena was already there and shoving boxes aside as she looked for what belonged to her. Edwin followed her scent and saw a small stack on the other side of the basement.

"My lady," he nodded to the boxes when she looked at him.

Serena slammed down the box she was holding and went over to the others. Ripping the first open, she set it to the side and moved to the next one. When she was done, three boxes were set apart from the rest. Edwin moved to pick them up and Serena shoved around him.

"I can carry my own stuff," she snapped.

"My lady," he kept his voice soft as he picked up two of the boxes. "It is not a matter of strength. You will have to take multiple trips through the house if you carry it all yourself."

"Fine." She grabbed the only box that Edwin had left and followed him up the stairs.

Everyone was still in the kitchen and Serena knew that they had been talking about her by how quiet it got when they walked into the room. All three turned to look at them and their eyes followed Edwin as he strode toward the door.

"I'll send you an invite to my graduation."

The Major stood up and put on his hat. "And your bedroom is still open."

Serena didn't reply as she slammed the door behind herself and almost ran to the car. Edwin was loading the boxes in the back of the SUV as she put the last box on the tailgate and went to her door. It wouldn't open and she saw Lucien ducking in the backseat. The first garage door in the front of the house opened on a well-oiled track without a sound as she went to the passenger-side door and yanked it open.

Edwin didn't say anything as he opened his own door and nodded to the black sedan that passed them with the Major and his son inside. Looking to the front door again, he saw Amelia standing in the open doorway as he slid into the driver's seat.

"I take it the visit didn't go well?" Lucien sat up after they were down the street a ways.

"I don't want to talk about it," Serena snapped.

**********************************A Demon's Mate********************************

Back at the house, Serena hadn't left her mood behind and decided hiding out in the bedroom was a better plan. The three boxes sat on the floor, though she had yet to open one. Instead, the red head was leaning against the wall, looking out the window and replaying the moments with her father.

She could hear voices from the other room. Teo had already come and been told that today was not a good day to visit. After a few minutes, Serena had heard the front door shut again. Other than bringing the boxes into the room, the demons had seemed to realize they needed to leave her alone and didn't bother to come to the door more than asking if she wanted something for lunch.

It was by accident that Serena noticed that she could see part of the deck from the window if she looked at just the right angle. Not that it really mattered. She knew where everyone was. Neither Edwin nor Lucien had ventured beyond the living room from the time that she had locked herself in here.

Until something moved.

Serena leaned forward against the glass as something moved around the deck but whatever it was, was beyond the spot that she could see. A small head popped around the railing and meowed at her. With a smile, the red head headed out of her room. Edwin and Lucien jumped up from the living room but she ignored them as she opened the door to the deck.

Noir rubbed against her legs, purring so loud she could feel the vibration through her jeans. Picking up the cat, Serena cuddled him close and took a seat on the couch. She heard the door open but didn't look up.

Lucien took the other couch and watched the red head for a minute before speaking.

"You know, he's just worried about you."

"I really don't want to talk about it."

"We don't have to talk about it." The demon shrugged. "I'm just saying, that your father is just worried about you. Not that he has to be. The Elder will take good care of you."

"Yeah, I would love to tell my dad that."

He nodded. "He might think that you've lost your mind."

"You think?" Serena hugged the little cat with a sigh. "It's always like that. Ever since I said that I wanted to go to art school."

"Well, it is a fickle field," Lucien reasoned.

"I guess."

"But like I said, it's not something that you have to worry about."

Serena finally looked up from the black fur in her lap. "If Sebastian doesn't hurry his ass up I will."

"We will be with you until the Elder comes."

Serena started to say something but was cut off by a huge raindrop hitting her head. The red head looked up as another drop hit and she scrambled off the couch.

"No wonder you showed up early today." She kept the cat covered as Lucien hurried them to the door Edwin was holding open just as the downpour started. "So, what are we going to do now?"

"You could look through your books again. The semester starts only a couple days from now."

Serena stuck her tongue out at the idea.

"Or, you could procrastinate again and do something else."

"Now, you're talking." She thought about it for a minute while watching the rain. "I have some movies in the boxes we brought back."

Edwin shook his head as Serena walked into the bedroom and started rummaging through the boxes. Noir was placed on the floor and stuck his head in the nearest box as well. A smile came over her face as she looked at something in her hand.

"What is it?" Lucien leaned against the door frame.

Serena held up her copy of Black Butler.

The demon laughed and waved her out into the living room. Serena set herself up on the couch as Lucien showed the hidden DVD player and started the first disc. Noir jumped into her lap and settled on her chest as it started.

Hours later, Ciel was in Paris and had found a black cat outside his hotel. Serena looked at the cat on her chest with suspicion.

"I swear, if that's you Sebastian, you come out of that right now or you're never going to get any."

Noir just looked at the red head. He meowed and rubbed his head on her chin.

"I think that's your answer." Lucien smiled from his normal chair.

"Maybe."

Edwin looked over. "That's a very powerful threat, my lady."

*****************************A Demon's Mate****************************************

Well into the semester, Serena had adopted a new routine. On days that she had class, Teo would show up in the morning and drive them both to campus. Afterward, Lucien or Edwin would be there to pick her up and she would go home to work on the pieces in her studio while Teo went do whatever he was working on for Sebastian.

Until Professor Greenville called her into his office a week before the Fall Festival.

The red head fidgeted in her seat, knowing what their little talk was going to be about. She looked around the office as he settled into his seat, trying to think of anything else.

"Serena," The man started. "I have not seen an entry with your name on it for the Fall Festival."

"That's because I haven't entered anything."

Greenville sighed before leaning forward, resting his clasped hands on his desk. "Several of the professors have expressed a concern this semester. You are working and turning in assignments as usual, but you're not excelling. You're turning in things right before the deadline and they don't seem to have your normal attention to detail."

"I know." She looked away.

"What happened in Tokyo? Did someone break your concentration? Did something happen that made you lose confidence?"

"Nothing happened," her voice was quiet as she answered.

"Then what is it? That's the only thing that I can see. You were doing amazing, the best student that I ever advised, then you went to Tokyo and everything fell apart."

"I'm getting my work done," she protested.

"Yes, and it's not your normal level of work." He stopped for a moment. "The only professor that hasn't said anything is Prof. James. I figured that Metalwork would be the first one that I heard from."

"I'm really enjoying metalwork."

"Are you wanting to change mediums? You could enter something that is not a painting for the show. That would be fine. But, you need to enter something. Agents from New York are going to be there and you have nothing to show them."

"I'm a...I'm thinking of not going."

Greenville stared at her as he flopped back in his chair. Shock was written across his face as he stared at the red head. Serena couldn't look at him and stared at the desk instead.

"Is this personal problem? A fear of failure?" He shrugged. "A fear of success?"

"No. Yes."

"What does that mean?"

"There is someone and I'm was thinking..."

"Stop." He raised a hand. "Far be it for me to say that it's not a good thing to be with someone. However, I have to wonder about the health of a relationship that would make you give up your dream of a career in this field."

"It's not that." Well, yeah it is. "We're thinking of moving." To Hell.

"There are other alternatives to the New York Institute. None are as good. However, for any of those alternatives, you would still need a portfolio. Which leads us back to your less than stellar work and the Fall Festival."

Serena took a deep breath. "I'll have something."

Greenville raised an eyebrow. "If its going to be anything like what you've been turning in, don't bother."

She glared at the man and Greenville just returned it. "I'm telling you the truth, Serena. You don't want to show potential employers what you've been turning in recently. Its the same level as anyone else."

'And that's how I ended up here.'

Serena stared at the canvas in front of her and looked out the nearby window of one of the school's studios to see Edwin and Lucien sitting outside on the lawn. The blank, white space didn't fill her with the usual excitement. This time it was nothing but pressure and the only thing in her mind was Greenville's disappointed face.

Teo looked over her shoulder from his stool behind her. "Are you going to do anything? I thought you wanted to work here because you couldn't work at the house."

"Just back off."

"Do you want some help?"

"No!" She snapped. "I just want some quiet."

"Are you sure?"

"Will you just go outside with them?" She glared over her shoulder and Teo put his hands up.

"Easy, easy."

"Go outside."

"Alright." He slid off the stool and started for the door. "I don't know why you didn't want to work at the house if you wanted to throw everyone out."

After he had left the room, Serena threw the brush she was holding and stalked away from the canvas. She was pacing when footsteps came into the room.

"What?!" Serena glared at the person expecting to see one of her demons. Instead, Nadine stopped just inside the door and the red head took a breath to calm herself. "Sorry. I thought you were someone else."

"Today not going so well?"

"You could say that." Serena went over and picked up her brush again. She carefully put the brush into the case she had brought from home, listening to Nadine moving in the background.

"I wanted to ask you something. About the Fall Festival."

"No, I don't have anything entered." Serena violently rolled the brush case up and snapped it shut.

"That's great!"

The red head glared at her. "Okay, maybe it's not. But, I was wondering if you could help me."

Serena sighed as she waited for the same flattery and then request that everyone else had done since she started school. Nadine figured out what she was waiting for and put her hands up.

"No, no. It's not like that. I don't need help with a piece." The blonde stopped. "Well, no, I guess it is that. I need a model."

"A model? You're medium is paint, like mine."

"I know." Nadine smiled, obviously excited as she came closer. "There's a group of us and we got special permission from the Dean."

"For what?" Serena couldn't help but want to step back from the look in the other girl's eyes. She picked up her brush set and pulled the canvas she had taken off the easel.

"A body painting exhibit."

Serena's dropped the canvas in her hands, the sound echoing off the walls like a gunshot in the mostly empty room.

"You mean...like naked."

"Yeah. Well, you wouldn't be completely naked. The only way the Dean would let us do it was if we agreed to find someway to not have everything out there. We found this stuff that covers your...you know, and you can paint over it just like skin. It's okay and your business isn't hanging out. And we found these pasty things that go over your nipples. So, basically we'd doll-ize you first."

Serena stared at the other girl's hopeful expression for a minute before shaking her head. "No, no. No. I couldn't do that."

Nadine looked crushed as Serena picked up the rest of her things.

"Are you sure? Because we're doing this koi pond and I was thinking that I could do something with your hair. And you have a rockin' body. I bet you would look great naked." Nadine stopped for a minute. "That's a weird thing to say, isn't it? Forget I said that."

Serena watched the girl continue to babble and saw Edwin and Lucien notice that there was someone in the room with her out of the corner of her eye. She shook her head but it was already too late, they were heading around to the side entrance closest to the studio.

'If it's going to be anything like what you have been turning in, don't bother.'

Serena hung her head at the doorway as Greenville's voice came through her head. Everything starting crashing in at once. The waiting, the future she had planned being thrown in the toilet, showing her father that she could make it on her own. That wouldn't happen now. She'd probably just disappear and he'd think that he was right all along.

The red head turned back. "You know what? I'll do it."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

Nadine screamed as she ran forward and hugged the other girl. Serena noticed Edwin with a deadly look on his face and pushed the blonde away.

"Sorry, sorry." Nadine pushed her hair back and smiled again. "We need eight hours before the Festival starts."

"Eight hours?"

"It's a lot of work and it has to be done on site. That's the earliest that the Dean would let us in the space."

Serena sighed and rubbed a hand over her face. "Alright. I'll be there."

Edwin took her arm, not bothering to acknowledge the other girl in the room. "We really should be getting home."

"Right. I'll see you then."

"Just remember, eight hours," Nadine called as Edwin pulled Serena away.

Serena waved as Edwin pulled her as gently as possible out of the room and down the hall. Lucien came up on her other side, taking her bag, as they walked to the parking lot. Edwin always managed to find a space close to the door and she was happy about it today as she felt the anger pushing at her from both sides.

Once inside, Edwin started the engine and looked at the girl in the backseat, who was staring out the window.

"I told you to stay away from her, my lady. She wants something from you."

Serena rolled her eyes. "Yeah, she wants help with her piece for the Festival. How evil of her."

The demon glared at her from the mirror. "And you agreed to this?"

"Yes."

His hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Why?"

"Why not? It's not like I'm turning anything in that I've done."

"Hold on a minute." Lucien stopped his partner from speaking. "What exactly are you helping her with?"

"She needs someone to help with the presentation. It's no big deal." Except I'll be naked.

"Why do you have to be there so early?"

"Set up." It takes a long time to start a piece from scratch and finish it in one day.

"We will be with you." Edwin nodded his head, subject closed as far as he was concerned.

"No one but the students are allowed in before the Festival starts." And thank the Lord for that. Your heads might explode.

She saw Edwin's grip on the steering wheel tighten and felt her own anger rise.

"If I remember, I don't have to really explain anything to you, Edwin." Serena crossed her arms over her chest and returned the demon's glare.

"It is my duty to protect you."

"I'm not doing anything dangerous."

"Having anything to do with someone with that level of greed is always dangerous."

The red head raised an eyebrow. "I take it Nadine would be a great snack."

"She'd be a four course meal." He turned around to look at her with swirling red eyes for a moment before going back to the road in front of him.

Serena stopped at that and wondered if he was exaggerating, if that was why she felt uncomfortable around the other girl. Shaking her head, she stared at the back of the demon. "There's going to be plenty of people around, Edwin. It's a group presentation."

The demon stared at her in the rear-view again. "How many people?"

"Almost twenty."

"You are not going to be alone with her at any time?"

"No." I don't think so.

"I don't like it."

"Too bad." Serena raised an eyebrow. "I don't answer to you, remember?"

***********************************A Demon's Mate**********************************

The day of the Festival dawned bright and clear. Noir was fluffing the blankets over her chest when her alarm went off, his purring taking the edge off the beeping from the table beside the bed.

Serena wanted to puke.

She took her time getting out of bed and getting into the shower. She had to be cleaned and waxed before the paint would adhere like it was supposed to. It hadn't been easy to explain to Edwin and Lucien that she had wanted to go to a salon yesterday. Lucien was always happy to trim her hair and, surprisingly, was a steady hand with a manicure. They didn't understand why she wanted to go to a human.

Even harder to get them to agree for her to go into a back room alone with the woman.

'I want to try it.' She had told them of the waxing.

'From what I understand, it's a rather painful process.' Lucien looked to the back of the salon. 'The Elder would not wish for you to make such a beauty choice.'

'It's not for him. It's for me.'

Standing under the spray, Serena tried to calm herself. "It's just one night. It won't even be the whole night. There are other presenters that will be using the room."

Finished rinsing out her hair, Serena stepped out of the shower as Lucien was knocking on the door.

"Breakfast is ready."

"I'll be there in a minute." The red head looked at herself in the mirror and tried to ignore the dread pooling in her stomach.

When she came out, both demons noticed the drawn look on her face. Lucien raised an eyebrow at the jeans and t-shirt she was wearing.

"You're going to present a piece in that?"

"No, Nadine has something for me to wear." Serena ignored the narrowing of Edwin's eyes as she took her seat.

Playing with the eggs on her plate, the red head just couldn't get up the want to eat. Her stomach was in knots about tonight, as well as Lucien and Edwin's reaction to her presentation. She didn't think that she could hide from them all evening, nor did she think the demons would approve of their exhibition.

'Too bad. It doesn't matter what they think.'

"Are you feeling ill, my lady?" Edwin looked at the food she hadn't eaten.

Serena shook her head. "I'm just nervous."

"Perhaps you should call Nadine and tell her that you are not coming."

"No, it's too late to get someone else. I'd kill my model if they backed out at the last minute."

The demon stood taller. "She would not be allowed to harm you."

"It's a figure of speech Edwin." She pushed the plate away. "I'm always nervous before a showing. Of course, not normally like this. But that's just because it's not my work I'm showing. If I do something wrong, it's not just my neck this time."

Teo chose that moment to bounce through the door and take the pressure off of Serena. The younger demon greeted them with a large smile as he took the stool next to her and leaned on the counter.

"Are you ready?"

"I guess." Serena sighed. "You know, I've been so stuck in my own problems that I never got to ask what you're presenting tonight."

Teo smiled as he dug into his pocket and pulled his hand back out, closed.

"Ta-da!" He opened his hand and showed the three pieces of metal in his palm.

An origami crane danced in Teo's palm as well as a cat and a rabbit, all made from metal that had been worked into thin lines. Decorative curls were worked around each body to make them more stylized and unique. None of them was more than an inch high.

"Awesome." Serena stared at the pieces. "They're so cute."

"Shouldn't they be bigger?" Lucien looked over her shoulder as Serena picked up the crane.

"No." Serena turned around to show him. "The smaller they are, the higher the degree of difficulty."

"Yeah, let's see that reaper tell me that I have no talent now." Teo twitched as he took back the crane and closed his hand around them again. "Are you ready to go?"

"My lady?"

"It's fine, Edwin. Really." She slid off the stool and grabbed her bag from the island. "I'll see you at the show tonight."

Lucien caught Teo as they were headed out the door. "I want you to find out what this presentation is that she'll be doing."

"Relax. Remember what I said, let her live a little bit." He shrugged off the other demon's arm and plastered the smile back on his face as he went to meet Serena at the car.

**********************************A Demon's Mate***********************************

Teo waved goodbye as he pulled away from the curb to head for the studios until the administration let the other artists into the gallery to set up. Serena looked up at the pretty colonial architecture. The first building on campus, all the others had been built to match this one and it made sense that the first was reserved to showcase the students and professor's work.

She was earlier than Nadine had told her to be and the urge to take a walk, to put this off for a minute more was almost overwhelming. One of the double doors opened before she could make up her mind and the decision was made for her.

Another student that Serena recognized but couldn't remember the girl's name stood in the doorway. She was about as tall as Serena with hair dyed hot pink and way more makeup than she needed. The girl stared at Serena a moment before smiling, reminding the red head of the cat that ate the canary.

"I can't believe that Nadine was telling the truth." She pulled Serena into the room. "No one thought that you would actually do it."

Serena stopped dead at the sight of so many naked people. Men and women were lined up in various poses in front of the far wall, and down the room, separate stations had been set up with paint, air brush and artists running back and forth. On the back wall, a massive backdrop was hung showing a koi pond and greenery that took over the space. In the center of the room were short pedestal's that the models were to stand on after the reveal.

"Oh, you're here." Nadine set down the brush she was using to show a technique to another artist and smiled as she came down the middle of the room. "I was worried you were going to bail at the last minute."

"I thought about it."

"I'm glad you didn't." Nadine grabbed her wrist and started for a door on the side of the room. "We have to get you prepped and then we'll start painting."

"Prepped. I'm not sure how much more prepped I can get."

"You went with the wax?"

"Yeah." Serena winced at the memory.

"Thank you. It makes skin so much easier to paint on." Nadine led them to a curtained off area of the smaller room and went inside with her. "Alright, take it off."

Serena stared at the other girl for a moment before sliding the jacket from her shoulders. Nadine was quick the whisk the leather away and waited for the next piece. Her hands stilled on the hem of her shirt.

"I take it you're not going to be auditioning for Playboy anytime soon?" Nadine smiled as she waited.

"No," the red head snapped.

"Well, come on. It's not like you have anything that I don't."

Serena laughed a little as she took a deep breath and lifted the shirt over her head. The blonde took it quickly and held it with her jacket. The jeans were easier to get off once she had already started but Serena stopped again when she reached around to unhook her bra.

"You're reaction is not so unusual, you know." Nadine waited with a smile. "It has nothing to do with what you look like. We are a rather prudish society by nature and it takes a lot for most people to take their clothes off."

Nodding, the red head unhooked her bra and slid the straps down her arms. She didn't look at the other girl as she slid her panties off and handed them over with everything else. When she did look up Nadine was staring at her with a smile, but there was something in her eyes that made Serena shiver and had her wishing that she had listened to Edwin.

"Sorry, but I knew that you would have a perfect body for this." Nadine apologized, not sounding the least bit sorry, as she grabbed something from the shelf nearby. She held up a pair of nude, boy short underwear. "You can see the tag is still on these. They're spanky-new. Fabric makes it a little harder to blend in, but the Dean wouldn't accept anything else."

"Thanks." It wasn't nearly enough clothing but Serena was just glad to put something on.

Nadine dropped Serena's clothes on the shelf where she picked up the undies and swiped a package from the next shelf down. The red head jumped with a yip when Nadine touched her breast.

"Sorry," she said as she looked away from what the blonde was doing.

"You're going to have to get used to me touching you today."

"I just wasn't ready for it."

"Okay." Nadine took a round circle off a piece of paper. "I'm going to push your nipple in and put this over it."

Serena nodded and stared at the wall. A minute later, Nadine straightened and waved to the curtain.

"Here we go."

The red head took another deep breath and straightened her shoulders before ducking around the curtain. Several of the other models looked at Serena as she followed Nadine to her place on the painting but she kept looking forward. Once in the little space she had chosen, Nadine started pulling little jars of paint out of her bag and lining them up on the floor beside her.

Serena jumped again as someone put their hand on her shoulder. She turned to see one of her former professors. Professor Brighten was 70 if she was a day, but that didn't slow the woman down. Much taller than Serena with a full head of long, white hair, the older woman had embraced her aging and made it work for her. Although an amazing artist, Serena was always shocked by how proper the woman was.

'She honestly reminds me of Lizzie's mother. What is she doing in the middle of this?'

"How are you this morning, Serena?" Professor Brighten smiled at the red head, seeming to have no problem keeping her eyes on the girl's face.

"Okay. I guess."

"It's a little unnerving, isn't it?"

Serena nodded as Nadine was pulling something out of her pack on the floor. The blonde handed over a sheet of paper into the professor's waiting hand.

"This is my concept. I was really glad that Serena agreed to be my model because I can pull her hair into my design."

"Hmm." The woman looked over the paper and then to Serena. "I think that using her hair is going to be difficult. The color may fit with the fish, however, it will be very hard to make it look like it's not hair."

"Well, yeah but..."

Brighten held up a hand. "Trust me, you don't have the time. Slick her hair back and paint it to blend in."

Nadine pouted as she looked over the backdrop but nodded.

"What are you doing here, Professor? I didn't think this is something that you would be interested in." Serena tried to get comfortable as it looked like it was going to be a long time before there was any paint covering her skin.

"The Dean was insistent that I approve the project designs. He figured that I would keep the students from anything outlandish." The woman smiled and dropped her voice to a whisper. "Little does he know, I am fascinated by some of the work that I have seen already from other artists in this area."

Serena winced as Nadine pulled her hair back and twisted the length into a bun that she stuck a paint brush through.

"Remember, you're going to have to start painting very soon to have any hope of finishing." Professor Brighten waved to the two girls as she moved to the next station.

"Right." Serena looked up at the ceiling as Nadine started moving her body where she wanted it.

***********************************A Demon's Mate**********************************

Hours later, Serena had to admit, she blended in nicely. The canvas that formed their backdrop had been set so that about a foot of it rolled down on the floor. Nadine had eventually decided, after putting a base coat down on her entire body, to have Serena lay down with one arm curled around her head and the other holding her steady against the floor. The worst part of the whole thing, she couldn't move or everything was ruined. Her left leg and arm had fallen asleep hours ago.

Serena listened to the quiet voices next to her and remembered that the artist next to them was having his model stand for the presentation. Which meant the other girl had been standing the entire time.

'I probably would've passed out by now if I had had to stand.'

The red head closed her eyes as Nadine was starting on her face. The tablet the other girl held showed the canvas behind Serena and what should be depicted.

"You would think that they would have turned the heat up a little higher."

Nadine squeaked when Serena moved a small bit to see the girl that had spoken. When the blonde had moved her back into the perfect position, she answered the model next to them.

"You can't sweat. The paint might run," Nadine answered shortly and started on a fish that would cover half of Serena's face.

Professor Brighten clapped her hands from the center of the room. "There is only one hour left before our guests start arriving. Remember, you still have to pack up your kits and clean up the room before anyone can be let in."

Nadine whined as she moved faster.

Lucien recognized the pulsing calm that Haagenti had identified for him and Edwin as a way to find Serena wherever she wandered off. Tracing the feeling, he realized that he was in the right room and started searching for what was being presented here. However, the people were standing in groups talking, nothing was being displayed except a large painting on the back wall.

Confused, the demon stayed where he was. He could feel there were more humans in the room than he was seeing. Slowly, shapes started to stand out. He heard breathing and traced it's source to the painting. His eyes could see the rise and fall of several different chests and the rest of their bodies filled in.

'I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die. I'm gonna die.'

The mantra repeated through Lucien's head as he realized what he was looking at. The humans around him talked and asked questions of each other, still confused as to what was being displayed. He tried to get closer but ropes held everyone back about six feet from the painting.

"Everyone, if I could have your attention." An older woman walked in front of the painting with a smile on her face as she raised her arms to bring everyone's attention to her. "I am Professor Brighten and I would like to thank everyone for attending our annual Fall Festival. Every year, in addition to individual pieces, we like to do one large project that showcases several of our students and their various talents working together. And this year is no exception. You will notice that there are pedestals set around the room and we would like you to allow the models and artists through and then feel free to take a closer look at the presentations."

The woman stepped away, allowing everyone to see the large painting again and Lucien felt the weight of doom crush him farther. Eyes opened and several people gasped as the models started to move, standing and walking away from their background. Everyone clapped and stepped out of the way as the models moved to their places. Several seemed shocked but still smiled as the artists helped their models up onto the raised platforms.

Lucien slid between two women and came around Serena's side so she could see him.

"Please get down." His voice was quiet as he looked around before coming back to her. "You have no idea...he's going to...just please get down."

The red head looked at him, the pedestal giving her enough height to be a little taller than the demon. She tried to smile but he could see the discomfort in her eyes.

"It's alright, Lucien. It's only a few minutes."

"You don't understand who's going to be here tonight. Please, you have to get off the floor."

She looked like she wanted to follow him, to take the hand that he offered and hide away from the people that were crowding closer and pushing him back. He saw her lift her head higher, resolve soaking into every muscle of her body.

"It'll be fine. I promised to do this." Serena looked at him one more time as Lucien shook his head. "I thought you would understand a promise."

"She's right, you know." Both jumped at Lucifer's voice. "Very bad business to break an agreement."

The Fallen stood behind Serena in a beautiful black suit, a glass of champagne in his hand and a smirk on his face. His hair was slicked back and Serena wondered for a moment if he had cut it. When he moved, a sleek, white tail of hair was revealed falling down his back.

"What are you doing here?" Serena hissed as she turned to look for Nadine. The blonde had joined a group that was looking at another model a short distance away.

"I have an interest in art." He moved around to stand in front of the red head. "And you do make a beautiful piece."

"Doesn't she?" Nadine smiled as she came up on Serena's side and looked at her model again.

"The artist, I presume." Lucifer smiled as Nadine nodded. "I complement your work on a living canvas. Several cultures have worshiped the human body as the ultimate piece of artwork." His eyes glowed when they turned back to Serena. "I imagine it was quite difficult to work with Serena."

"Not at all. Serena is an excellent model." Nadine brushed Serena's arm with her fingertips, the smile on her face reserved for someone looking at a favorite possession.

Lucien started to growl but stopped at Lucifer's hand on his shoulder. The Fallen leaned over, brushing his lips along the demon's ear as he looked at the door. "I believe that you are about to have bigger problems. Her surprise is here."

The demon spun to look at the door and searched the people coming in.

Serena watched them, suspicious, but there was nothing she could do with Nadine standing there. She turned back to the blonde, forcing a smile.

"Why don't you find Professor Greenville, Nadine? He has to see all the pieces to grade them."

"Oh, that's right." The blonde touched her again. "Don't go anywhere."

As soon as she was gone, Serena spun on the two.

"What's going on?"

Lucifer answered with a smirk. "Nothing. My real reason for coming was to extend an invitation from my mate. Regina wishes you to visit after you are settled into your demon's home."

"Okay." Serena blinked at him for a moment. "You're running errands?"

"Of course. Whatever my Regina wants, I am happy to deliver. She loved the necklace, by the way and says 'thank you'."

"You took the necklace."

"Yes, but I would not have had it if you hadn't called me."

"Undertaker called you."

Lucifer sneered at the name his son had taken. "Aelius called me for you. Therefore, you called me."

"Great." Serena turned to let another group look at the fish and flowers that decorated her skin. "How did you take the necklace, anyway? I thought that you couldn't take anything through the gate."

Lucifer shrugged. "It's my gate."

The red head rolled her eyes.

"This is why you did not enter a piece of your own?" Professor Greenville appeared out of the crowd, interrupting their conversation, and stood in front of the pedestal. Anita and Nadine arrived right behind him. "You were helping another student?"

"Yeah." Serena tried to smile, but just couldn't.

The man tried to look her over but ended up putting a hand over his eyes. Lucifer smirked at his reaction and covered his laugh with a cough. Finally, Greenville waved her to lean down so he could look at the blending and fish that covered her face. Serena closer her eyes again so he could see the full effect.

"The detail work is very good. She used the curve of your cheekbone to give the koi movement." Anita smiled as she lightly traced the fish and turned to Nadine. "And I love the blending of color to make Serena fade into the water."

"Oh, turn around." Nadine waited for the red head to turn and pointed out the foliage shown on the painting that she had recreated with more fish across her back and legs.

Serena had no one to look at but Lucien and Lucifer. The Fallen had disappeared and Lucien was frantically looking around them as if he expected an attack at any moment. She had never really seen the demon afraid. It wasn't helping her to stay calm.

"The detail is impressive for the amount of time that you had." Her adviser touched her thigh but quickly pulled her hand away.

The murmuring around them started to get louder and Serena saw several people talking and pointing at the models. Dean Mathis was in the doorway and looking toward Professor Brighten. She saw him make a discreet cutting motion and let out a sigh of relief.

Lucien shivered as power ghosted along his skin. He looked around and saw that he was the only one affected by the feeling that moved through the room. The demon recognized the tactic used by Elders to make sure that their prey was safe when stepping into a crowded, enclosed space.

He eyes darted to the door. 'No, no. Not now.'

The Elder followed his current master easily through the double doors. Crimson eyes scanned the three rooms that could be seen from the front doors as Lucien looked for Edwin. The larger demon was in the room across the hall with Teo and noticed Lucien's look. The blonde motioned toward the Elder but Edwin just nodded.

Lucien looked behind him and noticed that two of the models could be seen from the doorway. He pointed to one of the few men that had agreed to model.

Edwin shook his head slowly and the blonde nodded. He put a hand over his face for a moment and started moving around people to intercept the Elder.

But it was too late.

From his place just behind his master, the Elder could see straight into the largest room. All three demons saw the exact moment that he recognized his mate and all three flinched. Lucien watched in horror as the Elder stared at his mate. He looked back to see the girl kneeling down so that a guest could get a closer look at her back. When she stood up again, the man touched the fish on her hip lightly and a tremor went through the floor.

Lucien looked back to the Elder to see the older demon's eyes flash swirling red and felt those eyes rest on him. He felt the words he mouthed as though they were screamed right next to him.

'Get her down. Now!'

He nodded quickly and turned back to Serena. Professor Greenville was still standing beside the red head, carefully not looking at her.

"I understand the degree of difficulty and I am impressed." Greenville looked between the two girls. "Both with the execution as well as the courage to stand in front of these people as a living exhibit. You will both receive full marks for your presentation and I suggest that you take a picture before taking all that off. With that said, please get down."

"What?" Nadine stared at the man.

"Nadine, you cannot tell me that any of you," he waved to the other models and their artists. "Thought that you would be allowed to stay out the entire night. We are an arts school but many of those that donate to the school, as well as those that are on the board of trustees, are very traditional. It is a breakthrough that you were allowed to showcase this at all."

"I guess." The blonde crossed her arms over her chest with a pout.

Anita smiled. "Don't worry. The photographer was in here when you started. He's already gotten pictures and video for those that missed it."

"What?" Serena squeaked.

"The school's website put up photos and video from the Fall Festival every year." Greenville looked at her as though she should have already known that.

Of course she did. Her own work had always been featured in years past. Of course, she had forgotten that this time.

'It's only for a year. Then it will be taken down,' Serena told herself.

"There will be copies of the photos for both of your portfolios." Anita smiled. "It should be enough."

"Well, it'll have to be." Nadine huffed and reached out a hand to help Serena down.

Nadine didn't see the red head mouth thank you to Professor Greenville. The man nodded and moved to the next model.

"Eight hours of work for a half hour of stage time." Nadine grumbled as they made their way back to the door. She turned to look back at Serena again and the red head again tried not to shiver. "Still, it's perfect. Just like I knew it would be."

Her fingers drifted over the designs on the red head's body and Serena looked away, trying not to show how uncomfortable she was with the touch. Lucien was following them and noticed the expression on her face as she looked away. But that wasn't what made her stop in the middle of the room.

The scent of spiced vanilla made her gasp and she walked away from Nadine. Both blonde's words were drown out as Serena looked through the people surrounding her for a familiar head of black hair. Nothing else mattered, she tried to push Lucien aside when he moved her toward the door at the side of the room but the demon wouldn't budge. She knew that he was saying something but didn't bother trying to pay attention.

He was coming in the door when she stopped pushing on Lucien. Serena smiled as she saw the tall form clothed in his favorite black and perfect as always. The button down shirt and slacks were not what she was expecting but they made him blend into the crowd in a way his butler's uniform never would have. Crimson eyes were taking in the entire room but when they settled on her she saw the flash of swirling red. Anger was written in the tightness around his eyes and Serena flinched back a little. Lucien's coat came around her and she held onto the fabric as her demon looked away.

"He doesn't want to see you right now."

"But..." Serena started forward again and those eyes turned back to her. Seeing crimson flash to swirling once more, black started to edge her vision. She heard Nadine behind her yell out her name as everything disappeared.

*****************************A Demon's Mate****************************************

Lucien caught the red head as she fainted, knowing it was the Elder's doing. He moved quickly to take Serena out of the crowd of people as some of the professors noticed something was going on. Nadine was behind them insisting on calling an ambulance.

"No, no. That's not needed." Lucien smiled at the girl as she opened the back door for him. "She's just fainted. Serena's been a little stressed about this whole thing and it's finally caught up to her."

The black SUV was waiting at the end of the building and the demon was glad for Edwin's attention to detail. Teo hopped out of the backseat and held the door open for him to lay Serena across the seat. He turned back to Nadine as Teo jumped into the front seat.

"Don't worry. We'll get her home and let her sleep tonight. I'm sure you'll see her in class Tuesday. Just like always."

The girl obviously didn't want to leave it at that and looked into the SUV at Serena again. She wanted to come with. Edwin caught her eye from between the front seats and Nadine wondered what she was so upset about. The show had gone great and her work had been appreciated by the people attending. Their exhibit was going to be the talk of the show and probably future exhibitions for some time to come. Someone else might do another body painting presentation, but theirs would always be the first at this school.

Nadine smiled and turned to look up at Lucien again but the man was gone. Looking off the curb, the SUV was gone as well. Shaking her head, the blonde looked around her again and headed back into the show.

On the highway, Teo had his head in his hands in the front seat and was quiet as Edwin laid into him.

"You were told to find out what she was doing." His voice snapped out at the younger demon. "You just let her do this?"

"No! I wouldn't have let her go through with something like that."

"Well, you did. By not bothering to look into the situation, you let it happen."

Lucien looked at the window and let his mind block out the two in the front seats. They were all upset. The Elder would want someone to blame and it was all their faults. They should have insisted, they should have intervened. But they didn't. They let her have a little freedom and she had doomed them all with it.

Serena started to move on the seat and the blonde turned back to her. The girl moved as though she was in pain and he put a hand on her shoulder to steady her.

"Damn it!" He pulled his hand back.

"What is it now?" Edwin looked around from the front seat.

"She's hot."

"What?"

Teo turned to lean over the seats. "Like running a fever hot?"

"Like I've never felt a human this hot, hot."

"Damn it!" Edwin slammed his hand into the steering wheel and jerked the car off to the side of the road. He shoved Teo out of the way and leaned into the backseat to touch the red head's hand. "We need to get her cooler. As soon as possible."

"Teo." Lucien looked up. "You can run faster than either of us. Get her to the house and into the shower. As cold as the water will go."

"Don't put her in the tub. The copper will get too cold." Edwin get out to help his partner take Serena from the backseat.

"I've seen this once before." Teo shivered as he took the girl from Lucien. "When I first became a demon, the Elder that led me to the Pit was angry that Lucifer was looking into his house at the time. He couldn't say anything to the Fallen and he internalized the anger. His mate became very ill until he had calmed down."

"Well, I can't blame the Elder for being angry that his mate was naked in front of a room full of humans." Edwin made sure that the coat was still covering Serena as he looked into the distance. "We need to get him to calm down."

"You go, Edwin. The Elder will listen to you."

The demon nodded and took off into the darkness. Teo made sure that he had a good hold on Serena before disappearing himself, leaving Lucien to get the car back to the house.

Once there, Lucien could hear the water running as he parked the car in front of the small porch. They had only made it as far as the front bathroom and hadn't bothered to turn on the lights. Teo was holding Serena under the spray from the shower. The red head was still unconscious as she moaned in pain and tried to get closer to the water.

"She's still too hot." Teo looked up in a panic.

Lucien touched the girl's forehead. "Her temperature has come down a little."

Teo's hands slipped on her again and he struggled to hold onto the naked girl while not touching anything that would get him killed.

'Not that it matters. We're all going to die anyway.'

"I'll do it." Another form pulled from the shadows around them and both demons shivered. Teo jumped back, slamming into the wall as the other demon slid into the shower and took the girl's body from Teo.

Lucien helped Teo out of the small stall so that he didn't touch the other demon. Both stood to the side as the other demon held Serena easily with an arm beneath her breasts and moved further into the spray. He growled as he started rubbing the paint off her arms but it didn't come off easily. Whatever had been used to set the color wasn't coming off with just water.

The demon waved his hand and a basin appeared on the floor of the shower, out of range of the water. He took the red head with him to the floor and grabbed the cloth that was in the basin. The water ran darker as he wiped her skin with whatever solution he had made.

"Go to the Elder. Edwin will need help to calm him after tonight."

"Maybe he'll calm down after he kills us," Teo said.

Swirling red eyes shot to the two demons standing in the room. "You think he should spare you?"

"No," Lucien shook his head as he turned for the door. "We should have watched her closer."

*********************************A Demon's Mate************************************

Edwin kept his eyes staring ahead as the Elder stalked around him.

The house had been dark when he had first arrived and it had given him time to think about what he was going to say. When the Elder had finally returned and settled his master for the evening, Edwin considered running away.

'But there's no where far enough.'

The ground had shook when the Elder had walked out of the house and seen him waiting. His eyes were swirling pools of red and fangs showed inside his mouth. Claws had ripped through the gloves on his hands and small shivers still radiated from the demon as he moved around Edwin, unable to stay still.

"Why did you let her do this?"

The question was growled and Edwin jumped a little.

"She said that she was helping another student. She said nothing of the exhibit being...that."

"You should have asked."

"Yes, Elder."

The growling grew louder as two more jumped over the stone wall separating the lawn from the forest beyond. Lucien and Teo flinched back but dragged themselves to stand in front of the older demon. The blond took his place beside Edwin and waited.

"You two..." The Elder's growl made them flinch again. "Give me a reason. Any reason."

"There is no reason, Elder." Lucien looked at the ground. "We should have been watching her closer."

Edwin jumped a little again when the eyes swung back to him. "I expected you to know better. Why did you let the woman near my mate? You should know better than them. The greed was practically pouring out of her."

"I told my lady to stay away from her."

"It wasn't enough, was it?"

"No, Elder."

"It's my fault." Teo closed his eyes as the Elder's attention focused on him. "I told Edwin and Lucien to give her some space. This morning, Lucien told me to find out what she had agreed to help with and I didn't."

Teo screamed as the Elder's claws ripped into his body and sent him flying across the lawn. When he hit the ground again, the demon flipped onto his back immediately. His hands were shaking as he looked at the damage stretching from his hip across to his shoulder.

Edwin and Lucien listened to the younger demon's screaming in agony as the Elder's venom sunk into his body.

"Your anger is affecting Serena, Elder."

He swung back to Edwin, a wild look on his face. "Maybe she'll learn something."

"You do not mean that, Elder."

A small scream came from the house and the demon looked up to the second floor. The Elder let out a frustrated growl that shook the ground around them.

"I've had enough." The Elder started toward the house and the other two ran to stop him.

"Elder, you don't want to do this. You don't want all this time to be wasted." Lucien grabbed the other demon's arm as his partner grabbed the Elder around the waist and wrapped one his legs around the Elder's leg to stop his movement.

"I don't care anymore. I'm sick of this disgusting human!"

"Elder!"

"Three times. He had three chances, including tonight, to take his revenge. But he just keeps walking away."

"You've spent years cultivating this soul. The power it will give you will be worth the wait." Lucien slid two feet as the Elder moved forward as if they weren't there at all. "His soul will feed you for years and allow you to spend more time with Serena in our home."

A growl split the night and the Elder threw them off. Lucien and Edwin hit the ground hard and rolled to see the older demon standing over them.

"Where is she? All of you are here."

Edwin flinched as the Elder's eyes fell on him alone.

"He followed us from London and is with Serena now."

The Elder swung away from them and stalked across the lawn. They watched as he paced around the grass, growling as he moved. When he came back to Edwin and Lucien, they flinched and waited.

***********************************A Demon's Mate**********************************

The demon looked down at Serena and wondered again what it was about the girl that brought such a powerful demon as his Elder to his knees. There was nothing really exceptional about her. She was beautiful to be sure, but not outstanding. He had seen several woman in his lifetime that could beat her in beauty and form. From what he had seen she was difficult, even if the Elder's way was the best course, she fought it on principle. Of course, he had once liked that in a girl. It was amusing to watch. She certainly wasn't the demure, agreeable women of his time. He had met several strong women that held a certain appeal. There was something about a woman that could stand on her own.

Serena, on the other hand, jumped from one disaster to another. Disasters that she handled, but still needed help with. So, it wasn't that.

'One day, after you have spent century after millenia returning to an empty room. After you have spent year after year with no one to talk to about what is going on in your mind. After you have no one to trust with your thoughts and fears, that you feel comfortable drifting to sleep around.' The Elder had turned with a dark look in his eyes. 'You will then understand what a mate means to a demon.'

He truly didn't understand. Being a demon was great. He had thought his human life had given him every advantage that could be found in the world. However, being a demon was different. There was no master that he had to answer to, except the Elder, no rules of society that he had to follow, other than not to draw attention to himself. There were no meetings, no children, no need to make a living as food was easily available. The night he had awakened as a demon, he had truly known what it meant to be free.

So he slept alone after he returned through the gate. His space in their home was his own. There was no one else to please, no one else to accommodate. And anytime he wished to talk to someone, there was always other demons around the tower. He had traveled through the Demon's Lands after his initial training was complete and found there were many other Elders to speak to as well.

Sex wasn't hard to find either, so a mate's appeal wasn't that. Another part of a demon's freedom was the openness where sex was concerned. He could come to the human world and have his choice of partner, or partners. Though, you did have to be careful with humans. Their bodies couldn't handle the full strength of a demon. In times when that was craved, other demons were willing and available.

He never understood Lucien's attachment to his mate. From what he understood, the blonde had not had the pleasure of a demon lover since he had found his mate. He had offered the lust demon some of his own time and been turned down with a smile and a shake of his head.

He was pulled out of his thoughts when the body he held shivered. The heat of her skin was dropping rapidly and he turned the water to warm with a thought. Her chest expanded as Serena took a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. Her head turned toward the spray and he saw her mouth curve into a smile. His thumb rose before he knew it and rubbed gently against her bottom lip.

Serena moved against his hand. He watched as legs shifted and her back arched. The demon recognized the scent of arousal and smirked. So much for the Elder's statement that mates had no reaction to others. Of course, he always expected that he would be different. That Serena would be different. His fingertips drifted down her neck and the red head stretched to give him more skin to touch.

His watched her with a sly look as he gently moved down her body, keeping his hands in contact with her skin the entire journey. She stretched eagerly as he went, pushing more of her skin to his hands. The demon growled when his fingers met fabric and he made quick work of shredding the offending panties that she had worn.

There was still a little paint still on her skin and he picked up the cloth again. Swiping the cloth along her hip, he followed the line of her thigh to her knee and back up along the soft skin of her inner thigh.

The front door opened and he growled at the interruption. The demon wondered at the feeling that went through him. The need to pick up the girl and take off so he could keep her to himself a little longer.

He decided it was simply not wanting to share a partner.

Edwin appeared in the doorway and snapped his jaws at the sight inside the shower. The older demon ripped the door to the shower stall open and growled down at the two.

"Enough. Get out."

The younger demon glared at Edwin but he didn't move. Lucien stood behind his partner, holding a large towel out to accept the red head. He stood easily, pulling Serena with him and lifting the red head into his arms.

"Honestly, molesting an unconscious mate." Teo held his stomach as he stood in the doorway. "You have a death wish."

The demon snapped his jaws at Teo and smiled when the other demon flinched.

"She was responding."

Edwin grabbed the towel from his partner and wrapped the girl's body. "The Elder is speaking with her." He tapped the side of her head. "You didn't think she was doing it for you, did you?"

The mirror rattled from it's place on the wall. He held on as Edwin tried to take the girl from him.

"You think that you're going to fight the Elder for her?" The older demon's voice dropped. "You think that you might actually win?"

"The Elder indulges him too much." Teo scoffed. "That's why he actually thinks he'd have a shot."

He growled as he let go of the girl's body and Edwin nodded, taking Serena and wrapping her body up more securely.

Teo smirked as the others filed past him. The youngest of their group stopped in front of Teo's smirking face and looked at him out of the corner of his eye. Edwin and Lucien saw nothing except Teo hit the floor, holding his side and screaming.

"Damn it!" Lucien pushed past the other demon and knelt next to Teo, looking at the torn flesh of his side.

"That fucking brat!" Teo roared and tried to get up, intent on getting at the other demon. Pain forced him back to the floor.

"You used too much." Lucien grabbed the washcloth that had been used on Serena and tried to wash some of the venom out of the wounds.

"Maybe he'll learn to keep his mouth shut." He raised an eyebrow.

"He already had a dose of venom tonight." Lucien hung his head, looking away from the other demon's agony. "And he didn't say anything that wasn't true. The Elder does let you get away with too much, he does indulge you too much. You're as much of a brat now as you were when you were human."

"That's part of the reason that you were told to stay out of sight until the Elder comes for Serena." Edwin shook his head as he looked down at Teo before pointing to Serena's room where he had laid the red head. "Go on. Back into your disguise as you can't be trusted in that form."

The demon's body grew smaller and fur as black as his hair wrapped around the smaller form. The cat shook itself and stretched before trotting off to the bedroom door that opened by itself for him.

Lucien helped Teo to lay on the floor of the bathroom and froze some of the water around them into ice to lay against his side. He sighed as he looked at his partner.

"Well, now we know why the Elder trusts him to protect his mate but not to be left alone with her."

"I still say he should have left that one at home from the beginning."

"Do you honestly think that brat would have stayed away?" Lucien followed Edwin into the living room. There was nothing more he could do for Teo anyway. "What do we do now?"

"Be thankful that we're still useful."