Rating: PG13 - NC-17 Individual chapters will carry specific warnings.
Feedback & concrit: yes, please
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers: Anything from Season 1 on.
Summary: sequel to Nothing the Same.
Previous parts here
Dawn was not far off when Spike strode back into the factory after his talk with Angelus, entering through the Court rather than the private stairs to their apartment. Members of the Court were gathered on the main floor as they always did as the night drew to a close: gossiping, sparring, and swapping stories about the night’s events, they stopped what they were doing, nodding in respect to Spike as he entered but had long ago learned he didn’t need or want a lot of fawning and kowtowing when he was at the Court informally. It was enough that they were alert to his presence and not disrespectful. His four Lieutenants were waiting for him and he jerked his head, signaling them to follow him up to the second floor where they could talk privately.
“What did you learn?”
“There are several vampires working the bars. They’re keeping it fairly quiet but they’re targeting vampires not attached to the Court, pulling them aside to talk to them. Vampires only. We didn’t see them approaching any other demons,” Anthony summed up crisply.
“Anyone else realize what’s going on?”
“Doesn’t look like it. You know how it is: ‘Just vampires talking’.” There was a hint of bitterness in Michael’s voice and Spike repressed a grin. Michael was still young enough to resent that vampires were frequently shunned by other demons; not demon enough for them because vampires could, and did, pass for human. In time, Michael would learn that the opinions of lesser demons were less than worthless and stop being bothered by it. It was envy really. Not like a slime-spattered chaos demon could shift shape at will to hunt its chosen prey. It was mostly the demons who couldn’t hide their natures who looked down on vampires who could.
Spike found he was tapping one foot in a nervous tic he hadn’t had since he was a human and immediately stilled it, not wanting his agitation to show. Vampire or not, the Mayor was setting up a rival Court and Spike couldn’t let this kind of challenge to his authority go unpunished. His eyes rested thoughtfully on Marc, his newest Lieutenant as he considered his options. He’d promoted Marc only recently as the Court had continued to expand and he needed a fourth Lieutenant. He didn’t have the same track record with Marc as he did with the others. Resolving to keep a close eye on him, Spike set it aside for now. Marc would prove himself or be dust shortly.
“Spread the word,” he ordered. “Any vampire workin’ for the Mayor is to be killed, even if it’s your long-lost brother turned by your own Sire. Get the word out to every vampire in town not associated with the Court: I don’t give a rat’s arse what they do, so long as it’s not workin’ for the Mayor.” His Lieutenants all nodded quickly and he gave them an approving look. “I want the full Court in attendance Monday night. Anyone not there better be too far out of town to be punished.”
His Lieutenants nodded their understanding again and Spike added: “Good work. I’ll tell the rest of the Court myself on Monday but, you’re all smart enough to have figured it out already: war’s coming. Anthony, Marc, I want a complete inventory of the weapons in the Court and I want every weapon inspected to make sure its in battle-ready condition. Jose, Michael, same for the minions: I need a listing of strengths weaknesses and skills. Anyone you think would be a liability, stake them now. No one new is admitted to the Court until after this is over.”
He didn’t need to add anything to make them understand how serious his orders were. They all were regarding him with alert intelligence and he was again pleased with his choice of Lieutenants. Giving them a respectful nod in turn, he strode off towards the private back entrance to his apartment without saying anything further. He’d meet with them later during the week and get their private assessments of the situation.
Xander would have his prom. He’d deliberately set the full Court session for after the dance and only partly because he wanted the results of the inventory of weapons and minions first. Xander deserved the chance to be shown off before his classmates, give them all a chance to see exactly how prized his Claimed was. The Mayor wasn’t ready to make his move yet and a delay of a few days wouldn’t matter.
Xander was eating his lunch in the school’s main courtyard, leaning up against the trunk and staring off into the distance. The school was buzzing with prom talk: dresses and makeup and hairstyles, and he obviously knew way too many girls. The guys were just nodding and receiving instructions about the proper corsages to buy and the color of their cumberbunds and keeping their mouths shut for the most part. Larry had mentioned that he and Jonathan were going together but hadn’t felt the need to share details of clothing or shoes, thank god.
Larry had tried to persuade Xander to go but Xander just told him that his boyfriend wasn’t great in crowds and left it at that. He was pretty sure that Larry assumed he’d meant his boyfriend was shy - and Xander could just picture Spike’s reaction to being called shy - but he hadn’t ever come out to Larry as dating a vampire and hadn’t been up to the conversation so he hadn’t bothered to explain that what he’d meant was that Spike tended to slam people against walls and snarl at them when they offended him. A whole gymnasium full of teenagers was too much to ask Spike to put up with.
Buffy was being unbelievably girly about the whole prom thing. She had convinced Willow to go to the prom even if she didn’t have a date, pointing out that Angel, Wesley, and Giles would all dance with her and that it was an experience not to be missed. Xander had been amused by the death glares she sent the two Watchers as she promised their help in making Willow’s prom special.
He’d been surprised by Willow’s decision to go. Even a year ago, Willow wouldn’t have had the nerve to go to a major school function by herself. There was a time when Willow wouldn’t even go to the Bronze by herself but she had grown in self-confidence over the last few months. He couldn’t help thinking that it was a good thing: if Willow had become more firmly grounded, less dependent on others, hopefully she wouldn’t need to resort to desperate measures in her attempts to keep things from changing.
Oz’s voice intruded on his thoughts and Xander looked up with a smile. “Hey,” he greeted in return.
Oz settled down on the lawn beside him and Xander grinned at him. “So, Oz, are you wearing the blue taffeta or the red silk to the prom?” he asked. He wasn’t exactly sure what taffeta was but knew it was some kind of fabric from the movie ‘Young Frankenstein’.
“Taffeta makes me itch,” Oz deadpanned back at him and Xander was glad that Oz really seemed to be his old self again. “Dress talk getting to be too much?” Oz guessed.
Oz was skipping the prom, having arranged to join the demon band he become friendly with for the night. Xander thought he might persuade Spike to take him out to the bar that night. He didn’t care if he missed the prom but it still felt like he should do something to mark the occasion and watching Oz on stage with the band would be interesting.
“I am a male in hiding. Talk to me about manly things,” Xander ordered.
Oz’s lips quirked up slightly, his eyes crinkling at the corners with amusement. “As a modern man, you’re supposed to be able to handle it. Something about sensitivity,” he suggested.
“Hey, I’m a semi-openly gay man,” Xander protested. “I think that gives me a free pass on dress talk.”
“I’m pretty sure you only get a pass when you’re actually wearing a gay pride button.”
“Damn, I knew there was a catch,” Xander said with mock gloom.
Spike had seen the shop before, of course, but it wasn’t anything that generally interested him. An exclusive formalwear shop on the town’s main business street, he’d noted in passing that they had classy clothes but formal clothes weren’t something he had much cause to wear these days.
There had been a period when Angelus and Darla, Spike and Drusilla had regularly dressed to the nines and gone out on the town with the fashionable elite of Europe. Dining, dancing, flirting, feeding, the ton had kept them entertained, and fed, and wealthy for months at a time. He didn’t miss it, but there was something to be said for, every once in awhile, getting dressed in the finest clothing and strutting yourself before the masses.
Xander still didn’t have the knack of strutting, but Spike figured he could teach his boy.
Settling his duster and his attitude in place, Spike strode into the shop with the unmistakable arrogance of someone who had the taste and the means to shop in any store they chose. As he’d known it would, he immediately attracted the attention of the manager, who left the paperwork she was sorting through to approach him with a subservient smile.
“May I help you?”
“Here to check out your tuxes,” he informed her, his tone leaving no doubt of his skepticism that she had anything worthy of his time.
“Of course, sir.” Waving him in the direction of the racks of tuxedos, she said: “I’ll send Miss Chase to help you. She has an eye for the best of our men’s line.”
Bestowing a bright smile on him, she crossed the room to swap customers with a dark-haired sales clerk attempted to help a fussy matron.
The salesgirl turned around and Spike blinked in shock as she arrived at his side.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she hissed, flicking a quick glance in the direction of her boss to check that she hadn’t overheard the cheerleader being less than cordial to a customer.
Spike smirked. “Ask you the same question, ‘cept it’s obvious, innit?” His raised brow and pointed stare at her nametag actually caused her to flush.
“I’m working here and if you spread it around, I will personally find a tiny tuxedo to wrap your ashes in,” she said, glaring at him threateningly.
He grinned, amused by the threat and the imagery. “Not going to get much in commissions with that attitude,” he warned mockingly.
“We don’t work on commission, lame-brain,” she shot back. Which explained why the manager had swapped a promising lead for a difficult client.
“Minimum wage, cheerleader? I’m shocked. This some sort of community service requirement for graduation?”
“If you must know, I need a dress for the prom.” At Spike’s raised eyebrow and silence, she finally sighed heavily and continued. “Daddy had a little problem with his taxes. For twelve years. Now are we through with the soap opera that is my life?”
He was going soft, no question. The humiliation that lurked barely below the surface of her angry pride sparked a hint of sympathy. “Need tuxes for me and Xander,” he said, dropping the subject as she so obviously wanted.
Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “You have money?”
Spike gave her an exasperated look. “Not planning on buying anything, princess,” he replied witheringly.
“Then why am I wasting my time on you?”
“’cause you want to live ‘til the prom,” he pointed out.
“Like I’m worried,” she snapped. A quick glance at her manager and she sighed again. “Oh, very well.” Somehow she managed to make it seem like she was doing him an enormous favor as she began pulling tuxes out for him to inspect.
Spike left half an hour later, having thoroughly enjoyed the snarky exchanges with the cheerleader. She knew her fashions too and Spike had found the tuxes he wanted for both himself and Xander. He’d be back after hours tomorrow for a little smash and grab.
Xander found he was eating lunch alone again regularly, although by choice. Everyone was talking about either the prom or college, neither of which he had more than a passing interest in. Having long decided that he wasn’t going to college, Xander had little to contribute to the discussions. Sure, he was interested in where everyone ended up but not in the protracted discussions about whether to accept one school or another. Plus, it was the source of some friction in the library.
Willow had, of course, been accepted by every college on the face of the earth and Buffy was starry-eyed over the half-dozen acceptance letters that she’d received. Wesley was coming down fairly hard on her about her duty as Slayer and the two of them had had several arguments about why she couldn’t be a college student as well as the Slayer. Apparently it ‘wasn’t done’.
Xander thought Wesley was being too literal. He didn’t see why Buffy couldn’t slay vampires in Chicago or New York as well as she could here, it wasn’t like every Slayer had been Called on a Hellmouth, even Buffy had started her career in Los Angeles, not Sunnydale. But Wesley had responded stiffly that it was the Council’s decree that the current Slayer remain on the Hellmouth, since it was currently in such an active phase. And yeah, he could understand that but Buffy could fly back in a few hours for a crisis, this wasn’t the 17th Century.
They had finally agreed to shelve the issue until after the Ascension but Wesley’s adamant stance had done a lot of damage to his slowly improving relationship with Buffy and Xander thought Wesley should tell the Council to stuff themselves and work with Buffy on making it happen. He hadn’t said so, though. He was opting out of this conflict because he couldn’t see any way it was going to end well.
“Xander? Can I talk to you?”
He looked up at Willow’s quiet voice and swallowed the last bite of his apple, hiding his surprise. Willow had been scrupulous about giving him the distance he’d asked for and they hadn’t talked much outside of class and the library. Although things were slowly becoming more normal between them, he still wasn’t able to put everything behind him. His stomach no longer twisted into knots when he heard her voice unexpectedly and he had no problem being civil with her, so he supposed that was progress. “Sure, Willow. What’s up?”
“I wanted to let you know that I’ve decided I’m going to go to college in Oxford.” She smiled at his shocked surprise and shrugged. “It’s near the coven - fairly near,” she qualified, “and it seems like the best choice. The Hellmouth isn’t the best place to learn magic, because of the influence it has on spells and I think it would be better for everyone if I wasn’t around so much.” Her eyes met his sadly. “I’m hoping we can keep in touch by letter.”
“I’d like that.” It wasn’t just a polite fiction. Writing to Willow had been a safe way to explore whether they still had anything to re-build their friendship on. He was astonished that she was willing to go to school in England but he couldn’t deny it made sense. He wasn’t going to try and talk her out of it, even though a small voice inside him said he probably should. He squashed the voice. He didn’t owe Willow what she wanted from him. Some day, maybe they could rebuild but distance would help that more than proximity right now.
“Oxford’s a really good school,” he said finally, when the silence had stretched out to an uncomfortable length.
Willow smiled at him, and for a moment, he caught a glimpse of the gently mocking laughter that used to light her eyes when he and Jesse had said something particularly dumb. “So I here.”
They sat there silently for awhile longer, but the silence was no longer uncomfortable.
Glancing around to make sure he was alone, Spike slammed his booted foot against the glass door of the shop and smashed it open. Stepping inside, his feet crunching on the shattered glass littering the floor, he ignored the alarm, going straight to the section where the tuxedos he’d picked out for himself and Xander were hanging.
Draping them over his arm, he turned to leave and saw the dress the cheerleader’s eyes had lingered on wistfully every time she looked around the shop. It would look good on her: a shimmering black strapless job that would look sensational on her lush figure. On impulse, Spike folded it over his arm with the tuxes then paused just long enough to rifle the cash register as a cover, not surprised to find it was empty, and slipped out the back door and vanished into the shadows of the alleys behind main street just as the red and blue lights of the police pulled up to the front.
He’d leave the dress on her doorstep in a day or two. Chit probably would quit the second she had the dress - Spike had no concerns she’d have pangs of conscience about returning it - but he was worried she would quit immediately after she had the dress she wanted without thinking about how suspicious it would appear if she left immediately after a burglary. She obviously hated working at the store and wouldn’t stay a moment longer than she had to, so Spike would keep her safe from herself by waiting a bit before giving her the dress.
With a grin, Spike decided he might just have to drop by the store once or twice to taunt her about being a working girl before giving her the dress.
Cordelia pushed open the library doors and entered, her heels tapping imperiously on the linoleum as she crossed to the table where they were researching the three demons, still hoping to find a clue as to which one was the Mayor’s goal.
“I have something for you.”
“Miss Chase?” Wesley looked up and was immediately flustered by Cordelia’s flirtatious smile.
“Wesley, I just knew you were the person who could help me.”
“Oh?” Wesley adjusted his tie like it was the reason he was having trouble swallowing.
“Yes. This… thing attacked me in the shop… in the shop I was in.”
“Are you alright?” From his tone, Giles obviously wasn’t that concerned, in fact, Xander detected a hint of sarcasm, like he thought she was making something up to have a reason to talk to Wesley. Which was totally possible.
“Yes, thank goodness, but one of the customers was shredded.” Cordy made a face, wrinkling her nose in attractive disgust. “I think it was going to eat him.”
“What did it look like?” The skepticism around the table was fading. Cordy could be over-dramatic and self-centered, but she didn’t generally make things up out of whole cloth.
“Ugly and hairy,” Cordy reported.
“Anything more than that?” Buffy shook her head at Cordy’s lack of detail, which was good considering Buffy’s own descriptions weren’t usually much better.
“Of course.” Cordy had obviously caught the implication of incompetence. She reached into her bag and triumphantly pulled out a videotape. “The store security video. I knew you’d want to be thorough,” she purred in Wesley’s direction.
The video was awful. The thing, which really was ugly and hairy, also rope-tailed, bat-eared and with way too many teeth and claws, had burst through the front window and almost immediately attacked a customer.
“Is he ok?” Xander asked, watching in fascinated horror at the thing left its victim and retreated back through the front window.
“He got sliced up pretty good, but he was still alive when they took him to the hospital.”
“Why is the door boarded up?” Giles asked, studying the video closely. “Had the creature been there before?”
“No, that was an ordinary burglary two days ago,” Cordelia said impatiently. “Good thing, too, it’s the reason the owner installed the security camera.” As Giles rewound the tape to watch again, she continued. “You know the part that totally weirded me out? That thing had good taste. Watch, right there. See how he originally went for the manager? Then he abandoned her to go for the guy in formal wear.”
Oddly, that almost seemed right. They all leaned closer as the thing first menaced a woman in a business suit, then suddenly left her just as it had her backed into a corner, turning on a customer coming out of the changing room.
“If I'm not mistaken, this is a hellhound,” Wesley said, not sounding happy about the identification.
“Yes,” Giles agreed. For the benefit of the others, he added: “They’re particularly vicious. They’re a sort of a demon foot soldier bred during the Machash Wars. Trained solely to kill. They feed off the brains of their foes.”
“Look! Right there, zoom in on that,” Cordy exclaimed suddenly.
“It's a videotape,” Xander reminded her.
“So? They do it on television all the time.”
“Not with a regular VCR they don't,” Xander pointed out. “This isn’t Mission Impossible, this is Sunnydale High’s 10 year old Sony.”
“Wait. Pause it.”
Xander hit the pause button, wondering when he’d been elected Audio-Visual Boy, and saw what Oz and Cordy had been pointing to. Someone was outside the shattered window of the store, holding something in his hands and watching the Hellhound intently.
“Isn’t that Tucker Wells?” Oz asked.
He looked around the circle of equally blank faces. “Tucker Wells. He's in my chem lab.”
“Xander, you didn’t tell me this was movie night.”
Xander twisted around to look at Spike, just emerging from the back of the upper stacks. “Hey, Spike. Hellhounds in Sunnydale is tonight’s movie of the week.”
“Nasty buggers,” Spike said, his glance sharpening on the paused video. “Disgusting smell, though. Makes ‘em fairly easy to track.”
When everyone turned to look at him, he just shrugged. “Can generally smell them from a block away.”
Wesley looked interested. “Your sense of smell is that much more acute than a human’s?”
“Just another of the things they don’t put in books,” Xander said with a grin.
Wesley smiled back at the reminder. “Yes.”
“Why would someone want one of these things, anyway?” Cordelia asked and Spike gave her a withering look.
“To kill lots of people.”
Cordy shot a blistering look right back at him. “Well, duh. But why my dress shop?”
“Your dress shop?” Willow asked.
Unaccountably, Cordy flushed. “I, I mean, I shop there a lot.”
Spike smirked at her discomfort. “Like a second home to you, is it?” he asked with an underlying meaning that Xander didn’t get. He looked back and forth between the two of them, wondering what they weren’t saying.
“Perhaps we should get back to the subject,” Giles suggested.
“Right, Hellhounds in a formal wear shop,” Xander said.
“On the day before the prom,” Cordy reminded them. “It’s our busiest week.”
Xander’s surprise at Cordy’s description was forgotten almost instantly in a wave of sickening certainty. “Does that strike anyone else as being a nasty coincidence?”
Buffy sat up alertly. “Yes, it does. Like maybe this was a practice run for a devil dog trained to attack people in formal wear?”
“The prom,” Willow said faintly, looking sick.
“Oh, dear lord,” Giles exclaimed.
“And once again, Sunnydale puts the special in special occasion,” Oz murmured.
“Not to worry,” Spike said breezily. “Angelus and I can take care of these things tonight.” He glanced at Buffy. “You can come along if you want, Slayer,” he added magnanimously.
“Spike,” Wesley began, “we don’t even know…”
“Watcher, it’s like I told you. Can smell these things from way off,” Spike said impatiently. “Plus, they’re noisy. They’re not bein’ kept in any of the heavily populated areas and your teenager,” he gestured towards the image still frozen on the screen, “isn’t going to be drivin’ thirty miles a day to feed them. If we don’t turn them up in a quick sweep, we’ll check the butcher’s. Hellhounds only eat brains and someone’s been feeding them. ‘s not like the old days when you had a peasant village near your castle for that sort of thing.”
Wesley’s eyebrows had almost hit his hairline by the end of Spike’s speech and he looked shocked at the casual reference to eating peasants but managed to pull himself together. “Ah, yes, that… that is actually quite a sensible plan.”
“Don’t fret, cheerleader.” Spike smirked at her and Xander wondered again what was going on with the two of them. “You won’t have to miss your prom. You comin’, Slayer?”
Xander hated waiting for Spike when he was out hunting things. Granted, it happened almost every night but it was always worse when it was a specific target he was hunting. They were the ones most likely to kill or hurt Spike and he didn’t like the sound of something bred to kill, as Giles had said.
Spike and Buffy had walked Xander home at Spike’s insistence, before going Hellhound hunting. Spike had turned down Xander’s offer to help, as he’d known Spike would, telling Xander that the three of them were more than a match for one Hellhound and the Slayer was just tagging along because she hadn’t seen one before. Buffy hadn’t appreciated that remark but it made Xander laugh, as Spike had known it would. On that cheerful note, Spike had left, and Xander had resignedly turned on the TV, hoping to distract himself.
“Mmmm?” he asked sleepily.
“Fell asleep on the couch, luv.”
“Spike?” Xander’s eyes shot open as he suddenly remembered and he sat up, stiff muscles protesting the movement. “How’d it go?”
“Prat had four of the beasties,” Spike said, looking very satisfied. “Keeping ‘em in an old house on the edge of town, training ‘em with movies about school proms.” He grinned suddenly. “Not a half bad plan actually. Brainwashed the Hounds into goin’ crazy whenever they saw someone dressed in formalwear.”
“Everyone ok?” Spike looked completely unruffled, his clothing not mussed or damaged at all that Xander could see.
“Bit of a disappointment actually,” Spike admitted. “I was all for turning ‘em loose and giving the Hellhounds a fair shot at us, but the Slayer and Angelus insisted on shooting them while they were still inside their cages. Not really sporting.” He shook his head in disapproval.
Xander chuckled and pulled him down for a kiss. “Yeah, they’re like that,” he agreed. “So, vampire mine, why are there two tuxedos hanging on the closet door?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Takin’ you to the prom,” Spike answered casually, swinging over the back of the sofa to settle next to Xander.
“Spike, that’s… that’s really sweet but are you sure you want to do that?” Xander really was touched. He’d suspected that was what Spike was planning ever since he saw the two tuxes hanging on the closet door when he’d gotten home tonight. It was just that his mind couldn’t really wrap itself around the idea of Spike at a high school dance.
“Want to see you in a tux, luv,” Spike purred, pulling him close.
“Well, yeah, I’ve been thinking about you in one too,” Xander admitted. “I mean its sort of one of those high school things you’re really supposed to do but I don’t want you to have to go just because of me. I mean, you’ll hate the music, and the people, and the goofy awards…” He looked anxiously at Spike who seemed remarkably undisturbed.
“Promise not to kill any of your classmates,” he said flippantly, then added more seriously. “I want to do this for you, luv. You deserve it.” He grinned cheekily. “Won’t hurt that you’ll have the best lookin’ date there.”
“Well, that goes without saying.” Leaning over, Xander kissed him warmly. “Thanks, Spike.”
“Let’s take this to bed where you can thank me properly,” Spike suggested.
*A/N - Bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode ‘The Prom’