Coat Tails

Author: Wendy

Rating: PG-13.

Summary: There's a story behind every leather jacket.

Status: Complete as of 22nd November 2004.

Written for the IWRY B/A Marathon. The masterlist is here

 

**

He is watching her again. Tucked into the dark recesses of the packed small town club, Angel feels like an anomaly – like something that doesn’t belong. He doesn’t. The stirring in him is too close in a room of happy, dancing high school kids, flashing skin, their bodies sliding down and dirty to the innocuity of generic rock beats. It’s a panic attack of desire, blood, heat; demon clawing, scratching, raging. He blends himself back, needing to be away, needing the quiet of control and penance. The knowledge that he shouldn’t, mustn’t be here. But he is drawn to her, her warmth billowing out to him and enveloping him in its softness. He is helpless in the flame of her little grin-smirks, the way she sips coyly at her drink.

He is almost certainly a hopeless cause.

He can’t leave now and moves forward, hoping she will see him, wanting to vanish before she can. She talks to Willow, face pursing in confusion as the dark haired boy – Xander? – barrels towards them, all sloppy posture and hormonal charge. Xander’s arms swoop around them. Angel bristles, shards of jealous-envy pulling him in, pricking at his skin. He waits, eyes hawked to the moment.

She allows the contact, wearing it like a comfy sweater, all friendship and familiarity. She leans towards Xander, tripping him up, pulling him further into her trap… So innocently, she can’t even see - the goofy smile, the all-too-hopeful glances. Xander is almost as much of an outsider as Angel is, and both are looking in at what they can’t have.

Then she is gone, whipping herself away. Xander gazes after her, lost.

Angel looks up and sees she is walking towards him, body swaying gently, all untold grace and predator’s promise. Her curves are gentle and teasing, a treasure in a black and short clinging dress. She is barely 16, innocent and hopeful, untouched by the darkness around her. She is beautiful and precious and he should stay away, stop praying that only a sliver of her light will fall on his face. He has no right to be in love with her, no choice but to be. His heart opens and flutters in his chest, his lungs fill and expand: she is life forcing its way through his veins, reawakening feelings long dead and forgotten. He is a person at last.

He loves her. He loves Buffy.

He can’t remember ever not.

Now she is standing right in front of him, eyes flaring in challenge, lips downturned in casual dismissal. Lips full and soft he has felt in his mind’s eyes, ruching as his fingers slide over them, tracing their shape. He wants to reach out, tangle her vine-like in his love, need, want; breathe in her woes and cares, whims and whines. He wants sunlight and kisses, puppy dogs and dreams, and to feel her sweaty-faced and gasping beneath him as he tastes her blood.

There is shame and his eyes close, blink-blink.

He has no right. He never will.

He steps back and waits for her to speak.

“Well. Look who’s here.” She looks at him, eyebrows raised appraisingly.

It’s an invite, dangerous and silky and he slips right in, arms wide open, mouth a teasing smirk.

“Hi.”

There’s a tiny twitch of a smile, a show of warmth in her face, and then it’s back to defensive mode. “I'd say it's nice to see you, but then we both know that's a big fib.”

It’s their dance: two steps forward, two back, two to the side and round again. She’s teasing him, all spiky, hard-mouthed irritation that somehow sounds cute and hopeful coming from her. She’s small, her arms so bare. His gaze darkens. Xander is staring right at her. Angel moves closer to her, a bare scant of an inch. It is enough for him to notice how she flushes with heat and trembles slightly. He smiles. She cups her arms uncertainly.

“You’re cold,” he says.

She stiffens. “You can take it.”

He quietly grins at her misinterpretation. “No, I mean you look cold.”

He pulls off his leather jacket, a sharp kick of pain in his side at the movement. He hauls it inside, struggling to keep his expression steady as he drapes the jacket carefully over Buffy and straightens it out. He is amazed that he is almost touching her, almost holding her… It’s a giddy, light-headed feeling, as if all at once the dark club had been flooded with light – so surreal, he thinks he must be dreaming. But he’s not. She’s real, she’s here and she’s looking right at him, her eyes curious and startled. She wasn’t expecting this, and neither was he. His world has been in constant jolt since the day she came into it and nothing makes sense to him.

He says her name in his mind like a prayer.

The leather of the jacket dwarfs her but she hugs herself into it, letting it caress her skin.

“A little big on me,” she comments. She does not offer to take it off.

Maybe he flinches, or there is a slight give in his expression as he pulls back, but she is looking at him accusingly. He blinks, but then follows the line of her eyes down to the slashes on his ribs. He had almost forgotten.

“What happened?” she asks. The question is sharp and it catches him a little off guard. There is a moment of confusion as the soft glow of content fizzles away and he remembers why he is here. He wishes he didn’t have to.

“I didn’t pay attention,” he offers.

“To somebody with a big fork?” She is slightly incredulous. Her insouciance is intoxicatingly refreshing, all too close to smothering him whole.

“He’s coming.” He reiterates it like a protective mantra, clinging to the semblance of function and purpose he has left.

“The Fork Guy?” she asks again.

He plays the blunt card: all facts and gore, no softness. It’s easier that way and he hides behind the fantasy that he’s only really here to help her because she’s the slayer and Whistler gave him no other choice. Shut down, close up. Cold words, harsh reality and the knowledge that any night she could be taken from his world forever.

“Don’t let him corner you. Don’t give him a moment’s mercy. He’ll rip your throat out.”

He sees the lack of reaction to his words and feels a stab of hurt far worse than that in his side. She is not the girl he saw in the sunshine at Hemery, all lollipops and perfect hair; nor the girl in a puffa jacket and bright leggings slaying her first vamp. She’s a slayer – world-weary and battle-hardened… or so she thinks. He can still sense the tenderness in her, see the way it flutters in her eyes beneath a wall of sarcasm and wit. There is too much that could be used against her. Angel is determined never to let that happen.

He leaves before he tries to kiss her.

He knows she stares after him.

He hears her last whispered words.

“Sweet dreams to you, too.”

He will not sleep tonight.

~~

He waits for her outside. She leaves with Willow, Xander trailing behind them, still prattling on about his manliness. Angel follows, keeping back to the shadows. Buffy seems a little distant, her attention elsewhere – all mmm-hmms and yeah-yeahs – but she does not turn round. Angel is filled with relief.

They walk a little ways and gradually break off, taking their respective routes home. Buffy stands for a moment and watches her friends, a wistful glint in her eyes. He wonders what it is like for her to spend her nights in graveyards, to watch her friends laughing and joking, oblivious, while she has the weight of the world on her shoulders. He thinks maybe it’s the cost of keeping the world safe; ruin one life to save the lives of others. She turns slowly and begins to walk away. It doesn’t seem fair. What did she do to be given this burden, this life? It is hers now until the next slayer is called.

He does not even want to think about that.

Her pace picks up and before too long, she’s home. Her mother’s car is not in the drive. She enters the house without preamble, clicking the front door quietly shut behind her. He watches, hidden within the shrubs outside, as a trail of lights, go on, then off, like the flashes of a lighthouse in a storm-darkened sky. He imagines her in her kitchen, making herself a drink and a bedtime snack, and then slipping upstairs to her room. Maybe she’s singing, or bopping about to some song in her head, but she’s not silent. She fills the empty house with energy and light.

He’s replayed this scenario infinite times, stood here countless nights – making sure she gets home safely. Or so he tells himself. Is it right that he watches her window, hoping for a glimpse of silhouette, an echo of skin? The guilt slices and he moves away reluctantly, forcing himself back and back.

The light in her room comes on.

Angel stays.

He sees a play of shadows and wonders if she is getting undressed. He has never seen her in night clothes, let alone unclothed, and berates himself for even thinking about it. Silk, satin… he can’t quite see her in that. More in a simple cotton night dress with thin delicate straps; her shiny blonde hair falling in waves loose onto her shoulders. Chaste, innocent.

Before he knows it, he has climbed the tree below her bedroom window, and is peering into her private space. He has never done this before, never dared to bring himself so close to her. He is shouting, screaming at himself to go, to get down off the tree and stop acting like some damn stupid schoolboy. You’re 244 years old, for chrissakes!

This is Buffy. It is the only explanation he has.

She is turned from him now, her hand reaching to click off the lamp, her other clutching something very tight. She climbs into bed and lays down, bringing the object close up to her face. Finally it is revealed. Something throbs in his chest and he grasps onto the tree, the rough bark chafing against his hands.

Buffy pulls the leather jacket over herself, snuggling it against her skin. Her eyes flutter closed and there are gentle murmurs of breath from her mouth as she sighs contentedly and trickles towards unconsciousness. Her cheek nestles into the leather, cushioning it like a pillow. It is closer to her skin, her breath, her soft lips than ever he had dreamed he could be. He wants to freeze this moment, keep it perfect and timeless in his mind. He wishes he had paper and charcoal, a million chances to keep this hope locked in his heart.

Her voice comes, so hushed at first he thinks he is imagining it.

“Angel.”

It’s the last thing she says before falling to sleep.

Angel stays watching for the rest of the night. The jacket does not move.

~~

He sees her after, a few days later at The Bronze. Fork Guy is dead and Buffy is still wearing the leather jacket. The observation is not without a large order of stomach flutters and territorial pride.

And terror.

She’s looking for a connection, wanting to put in hooks and anchor him down. Her eyes are all sweet and flirty, her mouth pulling puckery pouts that chip at his resolve.

“Course, it would make it easier if I knew how to get in touch with you,” she probes.

He plunges deep inside and grabs tight to the reigns of his control. There’s nothing deadpan and flat, only cryptic, seductive. “I’ll be around.”

And worse, she tries again. “Or who you were?”

A smile and he glides past her, buoyed, knowing, knowing that he has a part of her that can never be taken away. Memories can last an eternity.

“Well…” she flouts, a little huffily. “Anyway, you can have your jacket back.”

It’s a test and she looks at him expectantly, baiting for a reaction. There’s a devilish rush of glee in him, a little victory chant and he can’t help the breadcrumb.

“It looks better on you.”

There’s a trail and it’ll lead somewhere. Tonight he doesn’t care about the rights and wrongs.

Her mouth gapes a little, and he leaves, already relishing her reaction: “Oh, boy”, sighed and sweet.

He doesn’t want his jacket back. No matter that the soft leather would forever carry the memory of the line of her body, the caress of her fingers as she whispered his name in sleep. He can close his eyes and know that she is wearing it, know that she wants something that has touched him, so close to her. It is the nearest he will get to the silky joy of skin-on-skin and he knows it’s the only way. Dreams aren’t meant for guilt-wracked vampires with too much time on their hands.

She can keep the jacket.

As he tells her, it looks better on her anyway.

~~

Seven years later.

He told himself he wouldn’t do this. He and Spike listened to Andrew, took in the spiel, and swallowed it with bitter bile and regret. They decided it was time to move on.

One hour later he is back.

He left Spike at Rome airport, with some lame excuse about Wolfram and Hart and his responsibilities as a CEO, and how this necessitated him to go alone.

“Of course, it’s nothing to do with Buffy.” He had grimaced at Spike’s inevitable question. “Why would it?”

“Then maybe you want a tutu to go with your… jacket?”

Angel had pulled self-consciously at the tight-fitting black and red leather racing jacket he had been given by the busty CEO of Wolfram e Hart Italia.

Spike had grabbed a tiny whisky bottle and swigged it down with a satisfied gulp.

“And dead spiffy it is too.”

The jacket had landed on Spike’s head. He had merely shrugged it off.

“So a new jacket it is then?”

Angel had smirked. “In a manner of speaking…”

Now he stands outside Buffy’s apartment door, a cushion of leather in his hand. He knows he should knock, but his muscles are tight and locked, air crushing him down to the spot. It’s an eternity of pain, don’t touch and not his girl away and he doesn’t think he can do it.

Maybe this was a bad idea.

He goes to turn, knowing he really shouldn’t be here. Buffy has made her choice and she’s moved on to a new country, a new life, and dreams of cookie-dough-Buffy all baked in his arms have crumbled away.

The door creaks open.

He’s caught and there is no time to get away and pretend he was never here.

“Angel.”

She’s shocked, her voice breathy and deceptively warm. He looks at her cautiously, the leather between them like a sea of memories. He smiles.

“I thought you might like this,” he says and holds up the swaddling of leather, torso and arm sleeves intact. “Heard you lost the last one when your town collapsed in a huge crater.”

She looks at him sceptically, not taking the jacket.

“What’s this about, Angel? You came all this way to give me a jacket?”

He looks down. “Yeah.”

“Angel, you know I care about you…” She sighs, a soft, keening sound.

“But you’re still baking,” he says. Her eyes flutter closed, her lips ghosting into a crescent. “Yeah, I know.”

“So this isn’t about…” She gestures, but gives up as she sees the telling jagged line of jealousy on Angel’s face.

“No, it’s not about him.”

Angel fights the anger charge, the indignation at the thought of The Immortal taking what is his and his alone. The Immortal’s just a distraction, an affair, a notch on the bedpost until something better comes along. Buffy is just having her fun.

Cookie dough is all about the long run.

He hands her the jacket.

She takes it gingerly, fingers floating along the seams. She smiles at him.

“Thanks.”

He nods, some strong sentiment sealed tight on his lips and beyond his ken. He can’t say what he won’t take back.

It’s time to go.

She surprises him and swoops down, arms trapping him close to her, lips kissing his lightly. He shakes, the leather cool and pliant against his chest, her hands on his back firm and insistent. There’s days of sunshine that they almost had, kisses and graveyards, trees and bedroom windows, her heart beating fast, warm breath on his cheek…

She steps away and looks at him softly.

He meets her eyes, a spark of past, present, future and maybe-goodbyes. Neither say a word. He turns on his heel and leaves.

This time, he won’t be coming back.

~~

She watches him leave. She does not cry, does not feel sad. She has watched him go too many times.

The jacket is cosseted in her arms, lying passive against her bare skin. She holds it out in front of her, the jacket unfurling and taking shape; a body, a face, arms, tight and strong. A memory, blackened and faded by time. Another girl; another life.

The jacket is big, much too large for her. It would swamp her if she wore it.

It is definitely Angel-sized.

She brings it closer, burying her face into the folds of leather. It smells of him, faintly, like bubble-future and hope.

“Who’s there, Buffy?” Dawn calls from inside.

“Just a salesman,” she replies, tucking the coat under her arm and heading back inside.

The door closes behind her.


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