Turn Out the Lights, Jack by Gyrus

Disclaimer: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and its characters are the creations of Mutant Enemy Productions and the property of Fox Television. Lucky S.O.B.s.

This story was written for the Buffy and Angel Lyric Wheel and inspired by the David Bowie tune, "Is There Life on Mars". Many thanks to bailunrui for providing the lyrics (reprinted below).

This story is rated PG for adult language and contains spoilers for the BTVS episode "Help".

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Didn't go to work today. Not for the reasons you'd expect, though -- being (1) drunk, (2) hung over, or (3) fired (for more information, see reasons 1 and 2). Today, I actually have the day off. Bereavement leave, because of Cassie.

It's seven-thirty at night, and I've just remembered that I haven't gone outside to get the paper yet. It's that kind of a day. Be right back, Jack.

The paper is wrapped in a plastic bread bag because it's been raining. I grab it off the ratty, dirt-infused straw mat in front of my door and toddle back to my easy chair, nodding to you as I pull off the plastic wrapper.

"Lessee what happened today," I say. It's really what happened yesterday, of course, but same difference.

I ignore the headlines. The above-the-fold stuff is always the same -- wars, politicians dishing out sound bites to kiss ass with their constituencies, high-profile murders, drunken celebrities crashing their cars.

"Good thing I'm not famous, eh?"

Like the celebrities, you have no comment at this time.

Anyway, it's the below-the-fold stuff that interests me more. Once in a while, real news manages to show up there. Not today, though.

"Is There Life on Mars?" one article begins. Just for the hell of it, I read on. Somebody found a rock from Mars, a meteor, that one scientist says has a fossilized germ in it. Of course, about a column-and-a-half later, another scientist says it's just an air bubble. Naturally, Dr. Fossil gets quoted a lot more than Dr. Bubble. It wouldn't be news, otherwise.

It's all a show. The scientists, the politicians, the celebrities. It's all about appearances and keeping 'em up.

It was never that way with Cassie, though. She could always see through the bullshit, and she never shoveled any, either. Not out to be popular, not trying to impress anybody. She just said what was on her mind. I loved that about her, even though it was damned annoying sometimes. Especially when she would tell me off about my drinking, because that was the one thing I could never talk to her about.

Like many of the world's great drinkers, I got my start in the Navy. It was just part of the lifestyle -- go out with your buddies, get hammered, go back to base, and try not to look hung over at reveille the next morning. Sometimes we'd get into fights with Marines or townies or whatever. We thought we were impressing the girls, but they probably thought we were Neanderthals.

That was certainly what Angie thought. She was a nurse at the ER where I got stitches one time after some jarhead whacked me on the head with a beer bottle, probably 'cause I used the word "jarhead". Damn bottle didn't even break, but my scalp sure did. Suddenly I looked like a jar of tomato sauce somebody had dropped at the supermarket.

Anyhow, Angie checked me over before the doc stitched me up. Like I said, she wasn't impressed. I must have said something right, though, because when I asked for her number so I could take her for a cup of coffee, she gave it to me. (Not like some of the other young ladies I met back then, who gave me numbers that turned out to be pizzarias, hair salons, or the San Diego Zoo.)

We got married a year later. A few months after that, Angie was pregnant.

If you ask me which were the best months of our marriage, it would be those. Angie was excited as all get-out to have a baby on the way, and I caught the fever from her. I'd gotten out of the Navy by that time and gotten a job as a loan officer at First National in Sunnydale, where we had moved the second we had enough money to make a down payment on a house. Now, whenever I wasn't working, I was prepping the house for the baby -- assembling baby furniture, buying car seats and wind-up mobiles, putting up wallpaper in the nursery, all that stuff. I even built her crib myself. And God help me, I loved every minute of it.

Then the big day came. It wasn't day at all, of course; it was about two o'clock in the morning when Angie started digging her finger into my shoulder and saying, "Honey, I think this is it."

I assumed she wasn't talking about the end of the world or the second coming of John Lennon or anything, so I called her OB (there's a job for you -- getting woken up at oh-dark-hundred hours so hormone-crazed women can scream at you all night), then I got her into the car and drove her to the hospital. Finally, after an eternity for me and an eternity-and-a-half for Angie, Cassie finally decided to make an appearance.

I know every parent says this, and I know she was red and wet and wriggly and screaming her little head off, but she was absolutely perfect. The moment she looked up at us for the first time with those huge blue eyes, I knew with total certainty that she was the most precious thing I would ever have.

And that someday I would lose her.

Sometimes I know things. Couldn't tell you how. A lot of times a customer will walk into the bank and I'll know if he's a good risk for a loan or not. We've got pretty stiff rules for deciding that stuff, of course, but now and again I'll go the extra mile for somebody who doesn't quite meet the criteria but who I know is going to succeed. Other times, I might discourage people who qualify but are going to fall on their faces. As far as I know, I've never been wrong, which is pretty much the only reason I still have a job.

I was a lot younger then, though. Didn't necessarily know what I knew. I just had this terrible feeling inside me, and I didn't want to face it, so I tried to think my way out of it. Maybe I felt bad for other reasons. Maybe it was because having a child meant the end of being young and free, or because all the anticipation was over, or something. Over time, I made myself forget where the feeling came from, or when it had started, or why, but it never went away.

I tried to be a good husband, a good father. But more and more, when I wasn't with them, I was with you. Don't get me wrong, I loved them -- I loved Cassie so much I could hardly stand it -- but you're the one who helps me. You keep the lights off so I don't have to see. You muffle all the little voices.

I tried, but I got so tired of the show. Being the right kind of father, and husband, and neighbor. I went back to the bars and the fighting, the things I knew from before. It kept my head empty. It lost me Angie, of course; it lost me almost everything except my job, and that won't be long now, because I can't keep the show going there much longer, either.

The voices are louder than ever -- the ones that say I've wasted my life, my marriage, and my career. They show me pictures, too, of me crashing my car or choking to death on my own vomit like Hendrix. I can live with those voices, though. I've been hearing them for a long time, and you've always been able to shut them up.

But there's a new voice, now, and I really need you to get to work on it, because what it says hurts more than any of the others. It tells me that maybe I should have enjoyed the time I had with Cassie instead of hanging around with you, waiting for it to be over.

Turn out the lights, Jack. I can't watch this show anymore.

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"Life on Mars?" by David Bowie

It's a god-awful small affair To the girl with the mousy hair But her mummy is yelling "No" And her daddy has told her to go But her friend is nowhere to be seen Now she walks through her sunken dream To the seat with the clearest view And she's hooked to the silver screen But the film is a saddening bore For she's lived it ten times or more She could spit in the eyes of fools As they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall Oh man! Look at those cavemen go It's the freakiest show Take a look at the Lawman Beating up the wrong guy Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know He's in the best selling show Is there life on Mars?

It's on Amerika's tortured brow That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow Now the workers have struck for fame 'Cause Lennon's on sale again See the mice in their million hordes From Ibeza to the Norfolk Broads Rule Britannia is out of bounds To my mother, my dog, and clowns But the film is a saddening bore 'Cause I wrote it ten times or more It's about to be writ again As I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall Oh man! Look at those cavemen go It's the freakiest show Take a look at the Lawman Beating up the wrong guy Oh man! Wonder if he'll ever know He's in the best selling show Is there life on Mars?