Title: The Waiting

Author: Starbaby

Series: BtVs

Disclaimer: you know the drill.

Summary: I don't write dark fic! Really, I don't. I don't know where the hell this came from. Feedback…great googly moogly, yes.

The Waiting

12/3/01

"What are fears but voices airy?

Whispering harm where harm is not.

And deluding the unwary

Till the final bolt is shot!"---William Wordsworth

She strikes a match.

The basement light is out, again, plunging her into darkness. Dropping her basket of laundry, she fumbles on a shelf for the flat packet, her breath the only sound for miles, other than the faint plip plip of the leaky pipe they'd purchased along with the new house. The matches are the universal kind, flimsy and thin, and three peter out before a tiny flame is born. She is grateful for the weak, orange light that allows her to stumble from washer to stairs without sprawling over tricycles, boxes, or cracks in the cement. Mr. Match guides her into the warm light that cascades from the kitchen above. In that circle of yellow, she is safe from basement creatures, mice and millipedes and leggy little things that creep in corners. She thinks Miss Muffet is a terrible story, and never reads it to her children. Violence has no place in their lives. The fresh ink on her divorce papers is testimony to that.

Standing at the foot of the stairs, she looks into the shadows of the cellar, and listens.

plip

plip

Mr. Drippy, she thinks, and wonders at herself.

There is something unsettling about this house that, in the daylight, she attributes to the nervous paranoia of a single parent. She never listens to the stories the neighbors tell. Mrs. Hopewell likes to hang over the hedge and whisper about wild girls and hooligan boys peeling away at all hours of the night. She wonders if she should have asked the Realtor more questions.

"All three…such a tragedy!" The bespectacled, suit-clad little lady hurried her from the room on the pretense of examining the furnace.

That was the first time she saw the basement. When she moves in, and discovers the pieces of robot stashed behind the pipes, she wonders if something illegal went on. Extreme water damage and piles of old cigarette butts aren't as disturbing, but a similar pile out front, beneath the big tree, makes her wonder. There is a bare spot, there, as if someone paced back and forth there on many a moonlit night. There are cracks in the walls.

She feels strangely safe in her pool of light. She wants to stay there, rather than venture back upstairs. The house breathes of femininity, and loss. It's there, in the tumble of skirts across a chair, in the pinks, and peaches, and in the tiny grave in the backyard. Digging it up with some trepidation, she finds only the bones of a house cat, someone's beloved. She is a mother--she knows the footfall of girls, and hears them on the stairs long after her own daughters are tucked into their beds. She checks on them, anyway, because she is a mother, and knows that a trick of the light is responsible for the shape of a man standing among the billowing white curtains.

She turns to hurry up the steps, but something under the stairs catches her eye.

Stakes?

She shrugs, assuming someone worked with wood. Later, she throws one to the family dog, and watches as he chases the notched stick into the warm, spring night.

And never returns.

*************************************************************************

He strikes a home run.

For a little boy, Sunnydale holds charms and mysteries. He listens to the stories, and shivers in terrified delight. He's not afraid to venture to the ballpark at dusk, but knows this will end once his mother hears the stories. She is nervous in the new house. He knows it's a Mom Thing, the terror and frantic search that follow the high, sweet laughter of a child she cannot see. He sees her, the girl who's not a girl at all.

He runs the bases, and thinks about walking home through the cemetery. He likes the graveyards, with their sweet-sad epitaphs and mausoleums large enough to live in. He isn't disturbed by death, or by his little friends asking where his family plot is located, as if they were discussing country clubs or gyms.

Maybe he'll live in a mausoleum, someday, and leave his high-pitched sisters behind. They wake him with their girly screams whenever they wake to find a face peering down on their slumber, or hear the jiggle of the doorknob and a voice whispering

Let me in.

His ball sails off into Miller's woods, which are dark and deep.

The game is not finished. He has promises to keep.

He stops at the tree line, peering into the forest. The ball is still rolling. He can hear it. He imagines it skittering across twigs and fern, blazing a trail. He pauses for the briefest of seconds.

Then, God help him, he follows where it leads

********************************************************************

She strikes a pose.

Mom is in the house, brooding over the dog, She is fourteen, and concerned only with herself. The backyard is empty, all hers to twirl and dance in, with only the fireflies as critics. Or so she thinks, until the red glow of a cigarette erupts in the night.

"Hello." She is foolishly brave.

"Hello, love." His voice sends crickets up her spine.

"We just moved here."

"So you did." The cigarette smells terrible.

"That's my new room--up there!" She points to a certain window. He looks up through the tree branches, his eyes following her finger. She hopes her mother stays inside.

"I know that room. I spent…time…there"

She is fourteen, not dumb. "Did your girlfriend live here?"

His laugh is like a gate crashing in the wind. "I loved her-but she was never mine. She belonged to this." He gestures to the cold, spring night.

"Where is she now?" She's being nosy.

He crushes out his cigarette in a bed of mums. "Dead. All her chums, too." He sounds lost and far away.

"Was she murdered. Did they go to jail?" Her oldest sister would call her a total buttinski.

'No, they didn't." Was that satisfaction in his voice?

"Sorry." She's thinking about going in, now.

"So were they." She's confused. He crushes a few mums beneath his boot heel, and leans over to catch her eyes.

"The third branch from the top, love. Go easy on it when you climb out. It bends in the middle."

Just then, her mother calls from the house.

"I'll see you around!" She vanishes through the familiar door.

********************************************************

He strikes a match.

And smiles.

"That you will, love."

FINIS