In Absentia
by Jessie

Summary: The infamous jacket stays awhile at the Summers' house. Narration courtesy of one, Dawn Summers.

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Mutant Enemy, UPN, et. al. No copyright infringement is intended.

Rating: Nothing more than Prime Time, if that. PG-13

Author's Note: This is just a little something to pass the time while I work on a bigger 'Buffy' story. Hope you like it. Feedback is that awesome thing that manages to make the season of reruns pass all the quicker. I would love to know what you think of my work.

***

For years it hung there. As if it was just waiting for him to come back for it. As if we were waiting too. I wondered, sometimes, if Buffy had been. If, maybe - just maybe - she still was. Waiting for him, I mean. Like that jacket.

And every time I thought she'd finally gotten rid of it - thrown it out or tossed it into the Salvation Army box we still put together every Christmas - I'd always find it right where she'd left it. Still hanging there. Still holding its shape - though just barely - sagging against its hangar in the hall closet. It always looked like it might slip right off at any moment, fall into a heap on the floor. But it never did.

She wouldn't get rid of it.

Once in awhile I'd hate her for it. For not letting go of the past. Or for not making that jacket's owner come waltzing back into our lives, like I somehow knew she could. Somehow she had to have that power. She just had to.

Mostly I didn't think about it, though. Both of us: we kept our coats in our bedrooms and only ever used the hall closet for Christmas light storage and a place to keep some of the nicer articles of clothing that still smelled strongly of Mom.

But I didn't have to open that closet door to see it. I could just shut my eyes, and there it would be: long and black and, after so many years of collecting dust, still able to catch the light. Still completely out of place in the closest, though hanging there nonetheless. It was the best place for it, really. Besides the dumpster, which is where I'd originally wanted it.

I don't think I meant it, though. All those comments about how much it didn't belong in the house and where exactly he could put any ideas about coming back for it; I didn't really mean any of it. I've always been a little too sentimental about this sort of thing - about him - and any grudges I may have against him tend to fade as quickly as they appear.

Buffy did keep it though, despite my protests. I didn't understand why, at the time. Or maybe I just chose not to.

She didn't argue with me about it. She didn't explain. Or care what I might think of her. I remember the look in her eyes - so 'everyday' and 'perfectly normal,' then a flash of something sad, then 'everyday' again - when she picked it up, off the banister where it still lay. Crushed the leather in her hands. Lifted it to where it wouldn't drag on the floor.

We'd only just gotten home. The world had only just not ended. And I think we needed to see the house before anything else. Before Giles, or Anya, or Xander, or... Willow. Before anything, I think we needed know that home was still there.

So we went to the house. And I remember smiling, because that's what you do when an apocalypse has just been averted. I should know. I've had practice.

I remember the coat catching Buffy's eyes, then mine. And she picked it up, and there was that look in her eyes before I tried to take it from her. Told her we should throw it out. Not all that intimidating or upset, I admit. I was too worn out to make a scene. And, like I said, I've never had the heart to stay mad at him for very long.

But she shook her head.

"No, Dawn... It's not ours." She said, so matter-of-factly. And that was that. She took the coat and hung it in the closet as if it were any other jacket, and this was any other day. As if everything was just like it had always been, and maybe Mom would come walking through the doorway to the kitchen wanting to hear all about how we'd just saved the world.

For years it hung there. Years. Every so often, I'd go and check. Just for curiosity's sake. Just to see if I really hadn't imagined the whole thing. Maybe I'd dreamt it. Maybe the coat was symbolic for something. Like his absence, or Buffy's fear, or something Freudian and bizarre, except that I've never liked Freud, and so probably not.

Most of the time I forgot it was even there. Especially after the first year or two. Never needing to open the door, I just didn't consider what lay behind it all that often. I think that was the point. I think she put it there so that we wouldn't have to think about it, but so that it would still always be there. Somewhere. Standing in for him. Waiting.

She's been waiting for years now.

I didn't fully realize it until later on, though. Or maybe, on some level or another I had, but couldn't quite find the words. Maybe I had just wanted it so badly in the past - wanted her to feel something other than contempt for him - that I was frightened by its sudden appearance.

I've stopped trying to figure it all out.

I finally understood it on the day I graduated. Buffy had brought some one to the ceremony. His name was Brad. I only remember this because he'd looked like a 'Brad' and I had always thought that that would be a difficult thing to do.

I sat in one of those uncomfortable, folding chairs, in the dry heat of early June, waiting for my name to be called. It was taking them forever and a day to get to the S's. I remember turning my head around at just the right moment to catch Brad give my sister a small smile. Just a little one. You know: one of those things that couples do, even when they've only just started dating, that remind one another that they care.

I caught him smile at her, and watched Buffy smile back. Like any normal girl would. Like I somehow knew she shouldn't.

I got a chill down my back. That smile was just a little too forced, I remember thinking. Which was a strange thought for that particular time and place, so maybe that's why it's stuck with me for so long.

Looking back, though, maybe it was the smile itself that did it. Maybe it really was as forced as I remember it. As fake and as fleeting.

I thought of the jacket then. Hanging there in the hall closet. Waiting. And I knew, suddenly, that that was what she was doing too. Waiting.

You see? I'm still far too sentimental for my own good. And I know this because I still lie awake at night in the same, frilly, pre-teen bedroom, because moving into a dorm at UCSunnydale just wouldn't have made sense, and I imagine that Buffy is lying awake too. I imagine that she's making up lists in her head of all the reasons she should have forgotten all about him by now. It's been years. She should have forgotten about him.

I lie there and I imagine that she's wondering just whatever happened to him, like I do too sometimes. Like all of us do, really, even if no one will admit it. We're like that, us Scoobies: still too frightened to admit our weaknesses.

I imagine she's trying to remember just what his hands felt like and looked like. Just what his hair gel smelled like, and his cigarettes. How coarse or how smooth his voice was.

And she's dragging herself out of bed now, because she knows she'll never be able to get to sleep. Not like this, anyway. Not with these kinds of thoughts. She's shuffling down the staircase, slayer reflexes keeping her too quiet for me to hear. That's what I tell myself, anyway. Because it could be true. Could be she's just too quiet for me to hear her.

Could be.

She's opening up the door to the hall closet now - and I don't hear the squeak because maybe she's just fixed the hinges, or else slayer muscles are more talented than I thought - and she's searching the darkness inside it with narrowed eyes. She's finding what she wants, but passing over it because she's too scared to admit right away that the reason she's up and out of bed so late is so that she can touch and smell and see that jacket that's been hanging there for four or five years.

Has it really been so long?

But then she does admit it. She stops and reaches out with both hands. To hell with the consequences. She takes it in her hands and holds it to her, then away, then back against her chest once more. She's breathing in the scent of the leather and old cigarette smoke and dead wood from the stake that's still in the pocket.

I know these smells.

Even if I can only imagine that she does too. And, if I stop kidding myself for a moment, she's probably not at all concerned with the leather mass in our hall closet. Or, at least, not as concerned as I would have her be in my head.

She probably doesn't think about him just as much as I don't think about him. All these years; it's easy to forget. Even if only for a little while.

But then, I think, it is still hanging there. She hasn't gotten rid of it yet. The Salvation Army is still short one holiday black, leather duster. It's still almost falling off its hangar, but not, and just waiting for its owner to come back for it.

She's still waiting for him to come back for her.

And whether or not she ever goes down, in the middle of the night, to check on the infamous jacket, I can still see it in her anyway. In all of the Brad's and Mark's and Eric's that she brings home but doesn't stand for more than a few weeks or months. In every smile that she gives them that might seem perfectly ordinary but still sends small tremors up and down my spine.

I see her waiting. I see the jacket. It's still hanging there.


The End