The Letter

Chapter 2:
The Coat

The Letter
The  Coat
The Man
The Truth
The Talk
The Visit
The Dinner
Friends Come Visiting
Making Contact
Back in the Saddle Again
Pennies from Heaven
The Prodigal
The Salon
A New Beginning
Tea and Sympathy
Encounters and Interludes
Desperate Measures
Dancing in the Dark
The Vampire, the Witch and the Watcher
A Week in the Death of William the Bloody
Phoenix Rising
Picking Up the Pieces
I Love a Parade
Mr. and Mrs. Summers

For a while at the beginning of the summer, the only time she had felt whole or at peace was when she was on patrol - hunting, as Dracula had once called it. She would work at the DoubleMeat to closing until her mind was numb, and then spend hours scouring the graveyards, sometimes not returning home until nearly dawn. Then she would spend the majority of the day in less than restful sleep, only to rise and repeat the cycle again, distancing herself from everyone. Time slipped by in an exhausted haze.

After Tara's death, it had seemed for a while as though none of them would ever recover. Bonds that had existed between them for years were ripped apart in an instant when Willow had succumbed again to the seductive draw of black magics. But when Xander had faced down Willow with his love for her, they began a long, slow climb out of the darkness again at last. And yet there were days when nothing seemed right, when it was hard to remember that it had once been so much worse.

One night, while searching in her closet to replace a shirt torn by a vampire that had gotten just a bit too close, she found it. The coat. His coat. Xander had brandished it at her angrily as she sat in shock on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, clutching her robe about herself to hide the bruises. She'd spent the rest of that day like an automaton, barely reacting to events around her. She must have hung it up in just another unconscious response.

The weight of it startled her as it slipped from its hanger, and she clutched at it more tightly, drawing it against herself. Its heavy, slick folds spun about her, surrounding her with the mingled scents of smoke, stale alcohol and unidentifiable cologne. The worn leather creaked as she tightened her fingers in the collar and held it close, inhaling deeply. Memories of his face flooded her mind. She'd seen every possible emotion on his face in the time she'd known him: superior sneers, boyish grins, anguish, panic, helpless love, jealousy, surprise, adoration, lust, rapture . . . and finally shame.

Without stopping to let herself think why she was doing it, she laid the coat on her bed. Slipping under the covers, she pulled it against herself, nestling deeply into the smoky folds. No dreams disturbed her sleep and she awoke feeling more rested than she had in weeks.

The next night she folded it into her backpack, along with a change of clothes for patrolling after work. She felt only a moment's hesitation before she slipped the heavy coat onto her shoulders. The sleeves had to be turned up, twice, and the hem brushed at her ankles, but it felt right - it felt like coming home. When she wrapped her arms around herself, she could imagine his embrace on one of the rare occasions they had found time for tenderness. She smiled involuntarily; hearing in her mind the sound of his voice raised in delighted profanity as their bodies laid claim to one another yet again.

Perhaps it was only her imagination, but that night the demons and vampires seemed more fearful, less able to fight back. Every move she made seemed to flow smoothly in step like the proverbial well-oiled machine going through its motions. And for the first time in weeks, she fell into bed delighting in, rather than overcome by her exhaustion.

Her sister and her friends began to comment on her improved mood and how she'd finally managed to put things behind her. Her heart grew lighter, her burdens easier, until an observer, not knowing her dark history, might consider her once again one of the blessed children of southern California, sun-kissed and without cares.

She only took out the coat on those nights she knew she would be alone. The others simply wouldn't understand. 

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Chapter 3: The Man>>