Easily Distracted
by Jessie

Summary: Buffy comes home from patrol to a scene she has trouble accepting. Character death and general unpleasantness, though most of it's implied.

Setting: Imagine a time in the near future of the Buffy-verse. Spike and Buffy are on good terms, and so are Spike and Dawn.

Rating: R

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not mine. Joss is the greatest. Need I say more?

Author's Note: This came out rather abstract, I think, but not too bad that you'd have difficulty reading it. I hope. Feedback is like naked Spike: I can't get enough of it. If you can, please send me some. Feedback, that is. Though if you do happen to have a spare naked Spike around, I'd happily accept that as well.

***

You still smell the burnt popcorn in the kitchen. The after shave that no one seems to notice but you. You wonder if it's all in your head. You've wondered this before. Tonight, it feels different.

There was a mark - a dent - on the hard wood door. That hard wood that's been kicked in and knocked down too many times for you to count or catalog, like the rationale part of your mind - the part of your mind that thinks you're still in school - wants to. But you noticed the mark anyway, and knew its many implications.

You swallow.

Your hands shake a little, but this isn't new. They've been doing this for months now, but you like to pretend that everything's fine. If only because it makes hiding it from your friends easier.

It's always easier if you believe the lie your telling.

You're healthy, you tell yourself. You're fine. Better than fine. You're the same girl you've always been. Because, really, what more do any of them want from you? They want their library back. And their mother. And their watcher. And their sense of order, even if that only meant knowing that evil was evil, and good was good. That's all they want.

You tell yourself that it's still like this. Evil is still evil. Good is still good. Your hands shake some more.

The burnt popcorn smell continues to sting your nose. Metallic. Unyielding. You try to block it out. Focus on the after shave. That wonderful after-shave that could only be in your head, but then, you never know. Could be real. Could be in a bottle under the kitchen sink, behind the cleaners where he knows you'll never find it.

He's like that.

You can't smell it any more though. Fear, with its own sound and scent, overwhelms you. Hits you in the chest and then the stomach. There's a lamp on the floor, its base shattered. Totaled. The bulb dead. It reminds you of your life, but you feel silly for trying to be poetic right now. You can't deal, so your mind's distracting itself. You know this. But you let your mind do what it wants. Some things are too much in a single moment. Shaking hands, burnt popcorn, and that mark on the door.

You can't believe that you're thinking about after-shave and poetry right now.

The room is too bright, even without the lamp that's now broken on the floor. You'd have an easier time understanding if things were appropriately dark. It's night outside, and scenes like this one - with that fear in your chest and that ache in your gut - are supposed to be as dark as the cemetery you just returned from.

Scenes like this are supposed to be dark. But it seems as though every light in the house is now on.

You step forward. Remember the dent. Smell the burnt popcorn. Then another, stronger aroma. Something like dirt and blood and sweat. The smell of a fight. You know that smell, but don't like that it hits you so harshly tonight. That smell should get you excited. Make you breathe in deeply and flex a few muscles. It should make your whole body tremble with the urge to search for the survivor of the brawl and make your own, well-timed move against him.

Your body does tremble though.

But it could just be your hands. Could just be that their shaking is infectious. Moves up your arms, down your spine, through every vein and nerve until the shock is gone and it's just your hands again. You tell yourself that you're not crazy for thinking this. You tell yourself that you're fine.

Everything is fine.

The couch will need to be replaced.

You like to think that some part of you is rightly angry with yourself for thinking such a thing. But you honestly can't tell. Better to pretend that you can, though. Believe the lie and it'll be easier. That's always been the philosophy in this house. And you're not gonna give it up now. Not now.

You swallow and smell the acrid taste of the popcorn once more. You picture, in your mind, what must have happened. You're good at this part. You know how to picture things like this, because you've done it so many times before. Walking among head stones in the middle of the night, what else could you occupy your mind with but all the different scenarios that could have taken place on certain occasions, when you were just a touch too slow; a second too late, and every one else paid the price.

So you imagine it as you stare at the broken lamp on the floor. She must have been making popcorn and he must have gotten a movie. Because that's what they did on Friday nights, wasn't it? Or maybe it was Saturday nights. But it would have been them and a movie. Because God knows you would have forbidden her from leaving the house. Not after everything that's happened. It's much safer at home.

And he would have never gotten around to putting the movie in, because you can see the tape on the floor far enough away from the vcr to suggest it never made it there in the first place. And she would have heard the sounds of fighting and come rushing out, abandoning the popcorn. You know her, and that's what she would have done. You've watched her grow up and you know her better then you've ever known yourself.

She would have come rushing out, into the living room, to try to help him. Would have forgotten all about the popcorn. Would have allowed it to burn.

You let your mind tally the estimated cost of damages. Something to do. Another distraction that you're telling yourself is perfectly normal. You're still fine. Healthy. Believe the lie.

New armchair: expensive. New couch: even more so. Maybe you can work a bargain with a local furniture dealer. Demon protection in exchange for low quality furnishings. Coffee table: repairable. Lamp: unneeded. You're cutting corners and working budgets as your eyes take in the mess. The television set's still standing. Snow plays across the screen silently. The vcr's seen better days. You'll probably need a new one, but they were the only ones who ever watched movies, so...

You wish that there wasn't a dent in the door. For just a moment, you imagine another scenario - and you've gotten good at these too; the ones where you get to play at normalcy and doing things right for once, if only in your head - where there is no burnt popcorn on the tile floor of the kitchen, where it's probably spilled.

There is no dent in the door. No broken lamp, or demolished couch. Just him and her. A movie that they had probably fought over at the rental place, before he'd have given in, with a dramatic sigh, to her demands, smiling secretly while her back was turned. She'd have the popcorn - which he wouldn't touch but pretended to crave whenever she did - and he'd have a mug of something or other.

You'd enter the room weary, ready to turn in for the night. But they'd invite you to stay - finish the movie that's already half over and that you've never seen before but won't mind seeing the end of before the beginning, because it's what they want. You'd sit between them on the couch. Pretend that you don't notice him watching you, or her watching the both of you.

You go so far as to imagine the rest of the night too. In one, quick flash: there's her 'goodnight''s and his. Her retreat to her bedroom, and his lingering looks at that place where your hair's fallen from its barrette onto your neck. Your initial refusal of his advances. Your surrender at the first touch of his hands. The next, long dance you'd both do, only a fraction of your energy spent on keeping the volume down so as not to wake the younger one.

You look up from the lamp and watch the snow on the television screen. You wonder if that's a sign that the thing's broken, and decide that, if it is, you won't bother replacing it. No time for that sort of thing anyway. They were the only ones who watched it.

There's a sound, but you think that it's only a cat outside. Or a neighbor coming home. Even if you know that it's never just a cat outside, or a neighbor coming home. Never easy. But it'll be all right. You tell yourself that it'll be all right. And that's what you'll tell every one else.

You're fine. You're hands aren't shaking. It's just one of those nights.

Suddenly - and you like to think that it was without warning, because where would you be if it wasn't? - you miss your mother. You miss her hands, which liked to reach for yours in random moments, for random reasons. You miss her smile, which warmed you whenever you saw it. You imagine yet another scenario - the same one that you've been imagining for longer than you care to remember - where she's still alive. Your mother's still here, and she's opening her arms to you.

Something inside of you isn't there anymore. There was a dent in the front door, and now you can't tell what part of you is lost, but you know that some part is.

But you tell yourself that you're fine. Because maybe if you believe it...

You take in a deep breath - ignoring the scent of popcorn and fighting - and search for the after-shave that isn't just in your head. It can't just be in your head. He must hide the bottle is all. Under the kitchen sink, or back behind the breadbox. Just because he's like that. The smell's there. You tell yourself you're not crazy. You tell yourself you're fine.

You think that if you can just pretend that evil is still evil for a little while longer - that your hands aren't shaking and that the lamp isn't broken - than, maybe, it'll be easier to lie about it later.


End.