Disclaimer: Angel, Wesley and Cordelia, thou art wholly characters which the Mighty Joss hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad of it. What shall it profit a fan to seek credit where none is due, and lose his soul and wordly goods to Wolfram and Hart? 

Verily, I say unto you that I receiveth absolutely no financial remuneration for these efforts. Ahem ... I mean, amen. 

Feedback: with thanks 
E-mail address: wiseblood@mindspring.com 
Rating: an -G- sty 
Spoilers: "Guise Will Be Guise" 

Author's notes:  So, what happened after Angel asked Wesley for his coat in "Guise Will Be Guise"? And what's behind the power of that particular garment to seize our imagination and shape Angel's public (and private) persona?

Spurred by an EC challenge to develop Angel's thoughts concerning the hijacking of his persona by Wesley, this bit of speculation is the result.

It's said that to know a man, you must first walk a mile in his shoes. In Wesley's case, to know (or emulate) a vampire required him to walk a mile in Angel's favorite piece of apparel -- and while I wonder desperately about the Englishman's thoughts on the matter, this is Angel's perspective. 

Perhaps the Coat has its own arc :)

Thanks to EC, most exalted alpha beta, and to anyone else who finds themselves helplessly succumbing to the Allure of Angel's Coat ... 

... And it doesn't matter *which* coat it is, for All His Coats are One :)

********
 
 

FORCE OF HABIT
by wiseblood





"Uh, Wesley -- can I get my coat back?" I ask him for what seems like the fourth time.

I know it makes me sound petty, a little neurotic even, but I really, really need it, and I don't feel like explaining why to Wes at the moment because ...  Because I don't know why, exactly. But picture a hermit crab without its shell, pinchers twitching, and you'll get the general idea.

Meekly, he slips it off and hands it over with a slightly rueful expression, his sea-gray eyes wincing behind their lenses as if he's anticipating a blow. 

Not from me ... right? 

"I'm sorry, Angel," he barely murmurs and watches me shoulder it on. The heavy serge shrouds my body in familiar, inky protection, imbuing me with what I'd like to imagine is my own special mystery.

I'm distracted by the undulant pattern of the green parquet flooring, appreciating how the design uncoils like a snake from under my boots. After a pause pregnant with his anticipation, he circles away, his accented whisper to Cordelia so breathlessly vague that I can't pick it up. Or, maybe it's just I can't hear him for the racket from her rattling the car keys.

"Go on. I'll be right there." My voice grates, rusty with irritation. Something's tugging at me ... something's weird ...

Her start of "But, shouldn't --" is truncated by Wesley's soft, cautious "Cor-DEE-lia."

How can I explain: 'Hello, I just got in from my weekend feel-good-retreat debacle a day early and a murder too late, so excuse me if I'm a little rattled!'? I need just a *minute* alone. To get my bearings and recalibrate my compass before setting out again. To feel like the me who left yesterday. 

You know, the guy who owns this coat.

"We'll bring the car 'round," Wesley projects at my silent back. I listen to them leave me alone in the hotel's grand foyer. 

I feel ... different ... confused ...

Whipping across the wide floor, I take the stairs two at a time, palm-over-palming the burnished brass railing so each hoist chafes the heels of my hands. It's when I'm at the top, panting as if something's after me, that I become aware of the day's heat trapped under the ceiling of the mezzanine. Like a capsule it surrounds me; the metal under my fingers, indistinguishable from me in temperature, squeaks as I jolt to a stop. 

I realize what it is. The weirdness.

Holy shit. I reek of Wes.

Everywhere I turn my head, there's some vestige of him that's impregnated the fabric. His shampoo residue along the collar's edge, where the little fringe of hair at his nape rested -- something herbal, probably Aveda since there's no acrid preservative overtones. Along with the obtrusive prick of his perspiration is some assertively manly, woodsy deodorant that, alas, has begun losing its potency. 

And his hair gel ...

Reminds me of the same brand I've been using for a while. It makes me wonder if he snoops around my rooms while I'm out, during one of his little drop-by's to see if I've lost my mind yet. Or did Cordelia just tell him what I buy? That wouldn't surprise me. After spending the summer with her in Silverlake, she knows the exact contents of my closet and my toilette, too.

But all this cosmetic gloss is just cover for Wesley's true scent. I lean against the veined marble wall and tuck my chin into my chest, inhaling deeply to decrypt his signature. It skeins into my dilated nostrils, unraveling itself to my inspection. But for all that, it's elusive.

As an aromatic portrait of Wesley, rendered in the shifting shades and tints of his molecular spectrum, what I'm whiffing is predictably complex. I snatch fleeting notes of bergamot, mellow amber, black tea and buttery-soft leather ... maybe even something rare and sweetishly Old-World -- suggestive of angelica? -- shot through with a scintillating tangle of musk and salt for a piquant, yet savory balance. 

It's ... nice.

His body's heat is beginning to dissipate from the fabric, causing me to reflect on the particulars of mortal energy levels. Like a lot of lean, tightly-strung types, it seems Wesley possesses a very high metabolism -- one that indiscriminately blazes the incandescence of his human fire into space like it isn't the precious substance I know it is.

Unless I've just fed, I feel cold. Realistically, I know I only echo the temperature of my immediate environment, and as much as I might wish otherwise, it's impossible to delude myself that I'm anything more than frigidly and obscenely animate, especially when I'm close to the living. 

The thought edges me toward melancholy, and I find myself rejecting the idea as just another quirky mental ghost still haunting this empty frame of mine, a hangover from my past mortality that neither common sense nor logic will dispel. 

Fact is, I crave warmth. I always have. Maybe it's one reason why I lived among mortals after I was turned. Even if I sometimes avoided being in contact with them other than for necessity's sake, I just couldn't stay underground surrounded only by others of my own kind; couldn't bear being so far from anything -- or anyone -- that generated even the remotest touch of heat or sun.

Yeah, the sun. It's my worst enemy, I know. But I've never been one to let a little natural antagonism stand between me and something I want. The injurious orb's imperative against my immortal flesh has never been a sufficient deterrent against that desire.

Darla understood. The way she shared my love of fine things was a fine thing in itself. Sheets of hand-hemmed silk and fresh linen, crackling crisply with starch -- oh, and beds such as a king would envy, with great, plush, eiderdown-stuffed mattresses where I sprawled naked and listened to the faint rasp of wind-stirred branches against the eaves. Where she and I could rest against an ornately carved headboard to gaze up past the casements into the velvet night and, with our preternatural vision, pick out ninth and tenth magnitude stars ... whispering to one another the secret names of fantastic celestial creatures no mortal eye could see. 

Almost as often as we were alone together we were unclothed. Exchanging borrowed heat in the darkness, our cool flesh supplied the necessary friction to kindle its own light. 

My fingers stroke the coat's satin-lined pockets. So good to slip back into it, to feel like my armor's intact again even though 'armor' is really a poor analogy. When I think of all the outerwear that bullets, swords and rebar have ruined just in the past few months alone, it really puts everyday spills and stains into their proper perspective. 

This coat is a lucky survivor. It's not lined with Kevlar or steel, but in spite of everything that's been thrown at it, it's still here. If my coat is an extension of me on some level, then I guess what I'm saying is, I'm still here, too. 

It's hard to explain -- and who would care since things have changed so radically between me and anyone I might've once been able to talk to? The only one listening to me these past few weeks -- *really* listening -- has been Darla. She isn't around now; her game plan to give my demon a get out-of-jail card didn't go the way she expected, so she bailed.

But that doesn't mean what happened before that point isn't worth remembering.

When my dreams became an escape from the growing disconnect in my personal relations, *she* was the one who was waiting for me, filling my void -- renewing the remorse I'd felt in Sunnydale as I watched her dust mingle with the common dirt on the Bronze's concrete floor. 

Reigniting the memory of our halcyon years together, she reminded me of a time when being undead wasn't a burden and the pure, simple clarity of evil was my whole world. 

And it's wrong, but I want ... I need ... and I know ... I can't. Can't have. Can't take. Can't let myself feel too much. 

Or in some cases, can't let myself stop feeling enough.

So many times while I was staying at Cordelia's place, I wished with all the fervor of my Gypsy-cursed soul that I could curl cat-like against her. But, I never gave into it.

Well ... never more than once.

I know she wondered what was up with me that night, if I was having a bout of recurrent Angel funk -- which I was -- but she said nothing. 

Fresh from her shower, I saw how one darkly sleek tendril of hair had escaped her towel's cincture to serpentine itself along the flute of her throat. Languid drops swelled down it, moistening the binding of her crewneck. She'd anointed herself with some rich, lightly fragrant moisturizer and her skin gleamed, rosily lustrous. No makeup. It struck me oddly to see her face completely naked. I felt a sense of privilege, since very few living men have probably been granted sight of Cordelia's unvarnished beauty, unmasked.

As I passed by, hesitant to disturb her, her right arm eased onto the sofa back to create an inviting hollow by her side. 

Without thinking about what I was doing -- or why, for a thousand reasons, it wasn't a good idea -- I crept over and waded into the pool of warmth she'd opened up, pulling my stocking feet underneath me. 

A hair's breadth from touching her.

While methodically shaking her bottle of nail polish, the tiny beads inside chattering like teeth, she inclined her head and eyed me. Her wry half-smile said: You can't fool me, Angel. And she was right.

I'd been ruminating -- okay, *brooding* -- about the explosion again. About how I'd gone back the day after it happened and found everything ruined beyond any possibility of salvage. The successfully solved cases and the conversations had all been immolated that night along with the other relics of my past. Their loss, I told myself, wasn't important. 

I knew I was lying. But it was either that or just give in to despair.

So the bomb destroyed our base of operations, and my lair ... but what mattered most was that the two people dearest to me survived. 

"It's a 'we' thing now, Angel" Cordelia had proclaimed during recovery. She seemed to want me and Wesley near. Those first couple days after their release from the hospital were spent in quiet recuperation -- watching for delayed repercussions, testing the realigned perimeters for stability. We drew strength from the simple comfort of being in one another's company. 

What made the emotional devastation of my drastically reduced circumstances bearable was the bulwark of their unspoken support -- their steadfast, unified faith in the rightness of our fight. 

A once-reluctant Seer, tapped by the Powers to psychically put me in touch with those who needed my help, and an ex-Watcher steeped in lore to translate and interpret -- Cordelia and Wesley illuminate my perpetual darkness. The same darkness that, ironically enough, is evolving beyond its malignant origin to become a backdrop against which they -- as the two guiding stars in my firmament -- can shine.

Mellow lamplight cascaded across her, limning Cordelia's profile in lambent gold. Her head swanned to the side as she expertly stroked color -- a deeply ripe metallic pumpkin -- onto the buffed toes propped on her opposite knee. My lids dropped. After a moment in which neither of us drew breath, she leaned gently into me. 

My flexed legs pressed against her; I luxuriated in the radiant heat that baked through her sweats, my thin wool pants, and into my pores. Melting against her where we touched, my flesh prickled when she casually answered the infinitesimal gesture by curving her hip against my ankles. My head dropped forward to loll onto her shoulder and, rather than jostle me off, she dipped to cup me with her collarbone. The soft exhalations of her breath caressed my cheek -- a tranquil bellows.

Keeping her upper body still, she switched feet. 

The contrast of our temperatures chose that moment to reach an apex of exchange. I shivered suddenly, startling her, and roused to find that she'd blobbed paint onto the side of her big toe.

"I'm sorry." I tried sitting up. Unperturbed, Cordelia shook her terrycloth turban at me. A stern nudge of her elbow commanded me to stay put as she swiped the coppery dot away with a tissue. She set her feet down on the hardwood floor to admire at a distance -- visualizing the shoes she'd wear to show them off, I guessed. Thinking the moment was over, I went through the motion of a sigh while marveling that these girl-type things didn't take longer. 

I was drowsy ... and so snug I didn't want to get up. I wasn't sure if I spoke my thought aloud when the words "you don't have to" sounded softly into my ear.

From across the room, a woven wrap shook loose its folds and floated down to gently spread over us. "Thank you, Dennis," she trilled. Tucking it around me, a bemused grin burst across her heart-shaped face. She found where my feet had burrowed.

"Oh, yeah, they're nice and toasty *now*," she laughed, cuffing my knee affectionately, "-- no wonder my butt was going numb!" 

Cordelian sunshine momentarily lifted my sad fog. I felt the alien sensation of a smile twitching across my lips -- compensation enough, I hoped, for the suitably witty retort I couldn't muster. Her squinty appraisal morphed into an accepting wink, and she snapped loose her turban with the flourish of a sculptor unveiling her latest work. Wet gems littered my trousers and kissed my face, warm as tears, and rather than wipe them away I let myself fantasize I was actually thermodynamic enough to evaporate them. 

Fondness softening her hazel gaze, she twisted to study me while she toweled the damply spiraling tendrils. She propped her heels on the coffee table and smiled to herself. 

I closed my eyes and drifted into sleep. To simply *be* there, with no questions or drama -- just a wordless acceptance, welcoming me at the hearth of her human warmth ...

So different from the creeping chill that's reeling me back to my body, and my hand's painful clutch around the banister.

While the coat loses the rest of its heat, I'm remembering how it looked so different on Wesley, as if it was never mine, as if I only imagined I ever wore it. He's usually so damn deferential -- almost humble in his bearing, although he's got me by a good inch or so -- but inhabiting the coat, he was every bit of his height and carrying it off proudly. 

Descending, I flash on the look in his eyes when he surrendered it to me. When I saw it on him, my immediate impulse was to say, "Well, Wesley, you've admired that coat for months, so finally you just helped yourself, huh?" But on the hem of that thought trod another: that he must have needed it and was more afraid of something else than me, or I wasn't around to ask. Turns out, it was both. And, I can't smell the need ...

But the fear ... it's still here.

If I hadn't been gone, Wesley would've asked. I guess he felt he couldn't. Even when I've physically been here I've been gone a lot lately, off with *her* ... in my head, and in my
bed ... 

It's true my actions have been a little strange lately because of this Darla thing, and I know they don't understand -- can't. I went to the Tish M'Gev's for a good reason, trying to get in touch with whatever it is that's making me think about Darla non-stop. Reminds me of how I used to be with Buffy, and still am when the mood hits -- but this ... this is a kind of sickness. It's not right, and I know I should never have let myself fall under her sway. But they don't know what I miss about heat and friction, or the hunger for that satin play of flesh on flesh I've tried so hard to deny these past few years. 

I don't need much in this world. I've had everything at least once and there's not much that's novel. But believe it or not, there are some things you never get tired of. Some things, you never can replace. 

Some things, you'd give everything to experience just one more time.

It's a shame the real Tish M'Gev's psychic repertoire didn't include the ability to foresee his own death at the hands of a corpulent ex-Twelve-Stepper. I mean, aside from the fact that the wrong guy was the one giving me advice, the trip -- except for the fishing -- was just a total waste of time. 

That stuff he said about my car? ... please. I'd be the first to admit a convertible isn't the most *practical* vehicle for a vampire, but on the other hand, also *so* not predictable and that's good for a private investigator. It isn't the best on gas, especially driving in-town, but it's a honey under the hood and has a huge-capacity trunk. And besides, what does a fake swami know about cruising around with the top down at night? A vampire needs ... more than just a ride. There's a style factor, too, but the way he made it sound ... like it was completely superficial. And that's just not true.

It's not *all* about appearances. Which brings me back to the coat.

Sure, I wear layers, and I'd even go so far as to say I do the black thing better than almost anyone. But it's not the only color I own. And yes, I realize at times I may come across as a little affected. Even as I'm standing here waiting for the car, I'm aware that some people glimpsing me while driving past will think: What's up with that guy wearing a long black coat when it's pushing the high seventies outside?

Thing is, whether it makes sense or not, they'll go away thinking it's cool all the same. And cool, while it isn't everything, is important if it lets you in the right places, and buys you time, and gets you a bit of information that may, just may, put you in a position to do somebody some good. To maybe even save a life ... and, that's what Wesley is doing. He's been gone since last night, doing who knows what in my coat, and now we're getting ready to blast out of here and he's walking around, giving orders and pretty much taking control of everything. 

Not like I'm jealous -- it's just I'm feeling that when I left there was a void, and maybe Wesley took this opportunity to step in. It's like he's connecting with the world in a way he hasn't before.

And that's something *else* I'm smelling -- he's met someone, and I'm shocked to consider he's 'known' her in the Biblical sense of that word. His sweat seethes with the musky punk of pheromone, pumped up from whatever reservoir it's lain quiescent in until very recently when he discovered his inner stud and started running with the big dogs. I'm betting it's because of this Virginia girl -- the one we're going to save, just as soon as they show up.

So, where the hell are they, anyway?

Probably arguing over who's going to drive.

The wind has picked up and it's tugging at me, slapping the coat's collar against my jaw like an admonition to wake up. I plumb the pockets while suppressing another shiver. The cold reminds me how very dead I am ... which *would* be depressing if I hadn't already beaten that nag to death, oh, about eighty or ninety years ago. Now it's just a familiar feeling and the coat has become like the layer of an onion, a papery-thin husk to peel away ...

Not unlike the Tic-Tac I've just discovered -- ewwwww! -- with its shiny candy coating worn away.

It's like the coat holds me together, and I know how crazy that sounds but that's why I had to have it back. 

The demon that's inside me -- that supposedly *is* me -- that I see more and more these days when I look into the eyes of those who know me best ... It hides inside these clothes. It feels safe in here, baffled and veiled in my sartorial camouflage. Once upon a time, my father was a merchant of fine fabrics, which makes my own austerity since becoming a vampire a little ironic. But then, it's just the lines that are austere; the material is always luxe. 

So what does *that* mean? If I had a functioning circulatory system, I'd be giving myself a migraine with all this pointless self-psychoanalysis. Maybe I'll revisit the topic some other time, when I'm not about to put myself into another potentially unlife-threatening situation. 

Hearing the car round the corner -- at last -- is a relief because my mind keeps taking me away from where I need to be. After what happened today, all I want is to do some damage and that's so not where I thought I'd be after coming back from this trip. To be honest, though, there's something really comforting about that piece of insight. 

The Plymouth glides to a stop and I see Wesley's driving, with Cordy and a disgruntled but resigned Gunn in the back. She gives me her patented, searching once-over as Wesley leans across to push open the door. His eyes meet mine, and he offers a wary smile.

"Glad to have you back," he says quietly. 

I blink, wondering what, exactly, he means by that, but there's no time to ponder it as I huddle myself to pass into their sphere. Crossing from curb to open door as the collective light of these three lives reaches out towards me, I'm moving at the speed of death from the past to this fraction of eternity where nothing is simple and a coat has become identity, protection, metaphor and more. 

From the cool clutch of the night, into familiarity and some kind of warmth. And no, it isn't the 
sun ... 

But for now? I'll take what I can get.
 

********

 



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