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can't let you slide through my hands

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          He fidgeted with his bow tie absentmindedly as he stared at himself in his hall mirror. Worthwhile concern about the looming Ascension became muddled with vain, purposeless worries about his own appearance. A deepening wrinkle between his eyes, stiffness in his neck, hair that had become more salt than pepper seemingly overnight.

          Having never really had events like this at his all-boys preparatory school, he wasn’t certain what to expect. All jokes about wearing taffeta aside, was a full tuxedo too formal for someone attending merely in a chaperone capacity? Rupert had managed to wriggle out of Snyder’s pressure to attend the Prom for two years, always having had better things to do. Now that Buffy and the other seniors would be in attendance, he felt most comfortable being there in case something should happen. One could never be too careful, in this town.

          That caution turned out to be warranted when Xander and Cordelia reported the attack on the formalwear store. Giles had been ready to drop all their evening plans in order to assist Buffy with the hellhounds, but she wouldn’t hear of it. He’d protested, but perhaps she was right. A night of reverie would be good for them all, at least while they were at a standstill with the Mayor.

          A weight had settled in his stomach when he’d realised Angel wasn’t taking Buffy tonight. The pangs had intensified when she’d told him the full truth: that Angel was leaving. Despite their past tension, even considering how Angelus had tried to kill Jenny only a year ago, Rupert knew how much Buffy cared for him, and knew keenly how she must be hurting, though she tried not to show it for the rest of their sakes.

          The thought of Jenny, however grim, still brought a smile to his face, as she had graciously agreed to chaperone the dance as well. Whatever else tonight had in store, at least she would be there, even if her date felt a good deal less fetching now than he might once have been. He smoothed the front of his tuxedo, checked his hair in the mirror a final time, and grabbed his keys on his way out the front door.




          As he passed through the entrance, Rupert was met with something of a sensory overload. Swarms of young bodies surrounded him, dressed like the adults they would soon be expected to be. Paper streamers hung from the ceiling as lights twinkled from every surface. Loud, pulsing noise he was certain the students referred to as “music” blasted from speakers in each corner.

         The decor and sounds faded around him as he saw her. Jenny wore a simple black dress, but unburdened by the bags, books, and laptop computer she was usually carrying, she seemed to glide lightly toward him. A thin chain lay on her chest, a deep red stone settled just over her heart. Her hair was in a loose bun with wisps hanging down around her face. When she was within reach, he pushed a strand behind her ear, where she wore simple stud earrings that were less flashy, more elegant than her usual dangling baubles. She leaned in close as if to tell him something over the noise, but planted a kiss below his ear that, while chaste, nevertheless warmed his face.

          “Hey, handsome.”

          He beamed. “Hello, Jenny.”




          For quite a while, Rupert found himself casting glances toward the doors every thirty seconds, anxious to see Buffy arrive safely, her mission complete.

          “You hovering over here isn’t going to make her job any easier,” Jenny chided him. “Live a little.” She raised an unidentifiable ordoeuvre to his lips, shoving it in his mouth before he could protest. He narrowed his eyes in annoyance as he chewed, but Jenny’s giggles served their purpose in softening him. He could only shrug as she pulled him toward the punch bowl.

          “This would be a lot better if I’d thought to pack a flask,” she joked as she ladled the pink liquid into small paper cups.

          “I daresay the school board would have something to say about that,” Rupert replied, though with a glint in his eye that told her he wouldn’t mind that either.

          They made their way to a table with their lackluster punch, and spent quite some time lost in conversation. Tiny moments passed between them; their feet grazing each other, the way they made each other laugh, Jenny’s hand on his thigh. Once, they stood up to give a halfhearted reprimand to students who were getting a little too hot and heavy on the dance floor. When the couple slinked out of their view, they were almost certainly on their way to snog in a dark corner away from prying eyes. Rupert and Jenny didn’t really see the point in harrassing anyone else, so sank back into their comfortable companionship.

          As Rupert went to inspect the finger foods, he finally saw her. Buffy walked in, a long lilac dress trailing the ground behind her. He felt the knot in his chest loosen.

          “Will Angel be coming?” Jenny asked quietly as she sidled up next to him.

          Rupert pursed his lips. “He broke up with Buffy.”

          She looked at Buffy, with a grim smile of empathy. Rupert was continually impressed by her capacity for compassion. She should be glad that Angel wouldn’t be floating through their lives anymore, after everything that had happened. All she seemed to be, though, was sad for a girl going through her first heartbreak.


 

           “Buffy Summers: Class Protector.”

          Tears threatened him as the student finished his speech and the crowd turned to Buffy, their voices cheering as she made her way to the stage.

          Jenny gripped his hand, interlocking their fingers as Buffy was handed the award. “She couldn’t have done it without you.”

          “She’s quite capable,” he replied, but his expression was full of pride as his Slayer made her way back toward them. Buffy smiled up at Giles as Jenny pulled her into a tight embrace.

          “You did good work tonight, Buffy.”

          Buffy was in the middle of showing him her embossed parasol when Rupert caught a glimpse of Angel behind her, moving through the crowd of students. Instinctively, he put his hand on Jenny’s shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze as Jenny looked up and saw Angel as well.

         A flash invaded his mind, of running as fast as his legs could carry him down the school corridors, turning the corner to see the shadowy outline of Angelus holding Jenny by the neck, her feet lifting off the ground as rasping noises came from her throat.

         Foolishly, without strategy or logic, Rupert had rammed his body straight into Angelus and carried the both of them into the large half-moon window, shattering several panes and drawing both of their blood. The vampire’s surprise at his recklessness was the only reason Angelus budged at all, but it was enough. Jenny fell to the floor, motionless. Rupert had drawn a stake, but before he could drive it into Angelus’ heart, the vampire had leapt the rest of the way through the window, casting a malicious grin backward before disappearing into the darkness.

          “Every now and then, people surprise you,” Buffy was saying, though he heard it through a fog as he returned to the here and now. He blinked, focusing on her small smile that was almost hiding the hurt beneath. Rupert looked behind her, seeing Angel stepping toward them uncertainly.

          “Every now and then.”

          With his words, she turned and saw him. Giles took her parasol and stepped backwards, slipping his other hand into Jenny’s as Buffy and Angel came together.

          “What do you think is going to happen?” Jenny asked him.

          “I suppose that’s for them to decide. Are you okay?”

          She looked up at him with a furrowed brow. “Not really. No one’s asked to dance with me all evening.”

          He rolled his eyes. “Not what I meant.”

          “I know,” she said with a grin as she began to tug him onto the dance floor. “Come on, let’s leave them to it.”

          “We are meant to be chaperoning the students, not dancing among them.”

          She raised her eyebrows, looking at something over his shoulder. “Doesn’t seem to be stopping Wesley.”

          He’d offloaded Wesley onto Cordelia a few minutes before, hoping he hadn’t subjected the girl to a night of annoyance. As Rupert turned around, seeing the two of them dancing without an inch between them, he realised he needn’t have worried.

          He chuckled. “As it turns out, a posh accent and a tuxedo goes a long way.”

          Jenny pointedly moved her eyes up and down Rupert’s body. “I’ll say.”

          He gave her a long-suffering sort of look before placing his hand on her waist and beginning to dance to the slow song broadcasting through the crowd. He’d let her believe she was goading him into something, she so liked doing that.

          He couldn’t help but hold Jenny close as they danced, closer than was probably appropriate here. He still found it difficult to be with her without thinking of how close he came to losing her, losing Buffy, losing everything. Jenny herself seemed to have recovered from the ordeal much more easily, somehow, though Rupert knew she’d never been great at actually facing the more difficult emotions that came with lives like theirs. They had that in common.


 

          As the night wore on and teenagers began to disperse, Rupert was able to better spot those he knew. He peered over Jenny’s shoulder at Xander and Anya, Xander still looking a little wary but Anya wearing a big smile as she gestured emphatically, engaging her date in conversation Rupert mercifully couldn’t hear. As he and Jenny rotated, he spotted Willow and Oz, their red hair blending together as they swayed. Buffy and Angel had remained inseparable for several songs, but eventually disappeared from the dance floor, presumably to say their goodnights (goodbyes?) somewhere a little more private.

          He stifled a yawn, then glanced toward the wall clock. “It’s getting quite late. When are we expected to stay until?”

          Jenny nuzzled her nose into his neck and murmured “Our responsibilities ended fifteen minutes ago.”

          “Ah, very good. How do you feel about retiring, then?”

          “To do what?” Jenny said with wide, innocent eyes, before smirking. “Wanna go make out under the bleachers?”

          Rupert couldn’t even pretend to be cross. “I was more considering going home. Namely, crawling into my bed.”

          “What a coincidence. I was also thinking of crawling into your bed.”

          A blush tinged his cheeks against his will. He wondered how long he and Jenny would have to be together for her to stop having that effect on him.

          Their eyes met in understanding, Jenny arching an eyebrow ever so slightly. They stopped dancing, said a few brief goodnights to Xander and Willow, then made their way through the doors, arm in arm, into the blissfully quiet night.




          He let his fingers dance lightly over her bare back, smiling when Jenny let out a soft noise of contentment.

          “What are you doing?”

          “Drawing sigils on you, obviously,” he said sardonically. “For the sacrifice.”

          “Can it wait?” she replied without missing a beat, turning to face him and pulling the covers up close to her chin. “I need my beauty rest.”

          “I doubt that.” He looked into her eyes, so large and sparkling in the dim light of his bedroom. Her hair was messy, her clothes and belongings scattered around his apartment that was once so well-kept, but he wouldn’t give up her brand of lovable chaos for anything.

          “Against my expectations, I rather enjoyed tonight.” Rupert thought aloud as he wrapped an arm over Jenny’s shoulders.

          She shifted so that her head rested on his chest as she looked up at him. “What were your expectations?”

          “Hormonal teenagers, incessant noise, obligatory small talk with colleagues.”

          “Is this where I break it to you that tonight had all of those things?”

          He chuckled, bending his neck to kiss the top of her head. “But it also had you.”

          “Go to sleep, Rupert. I’ll still be here in the morning.”

          He pulled her closer to him, their skin now in contact from shoulders to ankles. “Promise?”

          “Yeah,” she said sleepily as she closed her eyes and nuzzled into his chest. “Wild horses, and all that.”