Legal: All characters are (c) Joss Whedon, Fox, Mutant Enemy and probably a whole mess of other people. No infringement of copyright is intended.
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Spoilers: Up to the end of season 5
Summary: A belated response to the YGTSFic 50 Challenge. A retired Watcher remembers his dreams and his failures.
He's surprised when she brings him the cake.
Not because he thought she would forget his birthday, but because until that moment, he hadn't even realised what day it was.
Now, looking at the white icing and the slightly wobbly blue "50" that has been written across it, he forces a smile. It's fruit cake, heavy with brandy. His ulcer twinges in anticipation, but he takes a large slice anyway. The cook's smile, perfect after twenty years of practice, sees to that.
The phone rings. His first reaction is gratitude; the caller has saved him from a night of pills and sleeplessness; but then he realises who it most likely is, and the gratitude fades.
"Travers." He drops the smile. "Somehow I doubt you called to give me your best wishes."
"You're needed at the Council building."
"It's about the new slayer."
He sighs, closes his eyes. Even now, the Council knows how to get to him.
"I'll be there in an hour." He hangs up without waiting for the reply, and turns, knowing she will be there.
"You have to go?" she looks crestfallen, his slice of cake on a plate in her hands.
"I'm sorry." He kisses her forehead. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
It's 50 minutes later; a nice irony, on this day; when he walks into the gloomy chamber that serves as the heart of the Watchers' Council.
Travers is there, standing just to the side of the wheelchair-bound old man, both of them watching him with eyes that are hidden in shadows by the flickering fireplace that is the room's only light.
"Very foreboding." He jams his hands into the pockets of his blue jeans; chosen precisely because they look so out of place here. "You have heard of electricity, surely?"
Travers frowns, but the old man laughs, then coughs heavily, sucking in air.
Despite the wet sickness of the sound, he feels relieved. This is obviously one of the old man's better days. More than once, he's come here to find the aged Council leader all but catatonic, oblivious in a sea of painkillers.
"What's this about?" he sweeps back hair that is thinning quicker than he would like, glances around at the books that filled so many of his youthful days.
"The new Slayer."
"Yes, you said that on the phone." He waves Travers' words away, "Let's get to the heart of the matter, shall we? None of us are young enough to waste time."
The words are flat and expressionless. He laughs,
"Of course she is. She's sixteen."
"We want you to be her Watcher."
His breath catches. He straightens, forces down the anger and the fear and the impulse to say 'yes'.
"Yes, you said that on the phone." His own words flung back at him. Travers always was sharp in an argument.
"I meant it."
"This is her picture."
He tries not to look, but can't resist the urge. For a moment, seeing the blonde hair and the slightly curved mouth, he thinks it's her. His vision swims; he bites down the impulse to say her name.
It isn't her, of course. She's dead and in the ground. Buffy Summers. The greatest slayer in the Council's history. A girl who had opened his own eyes to what his job had become. A girl he had failed.
This girl isn't her. The hair and mouth are similar, perhaps, but the nose and chin are too pronounced, and her scruffy jeans and leather jacket are more like something Faith would have worn.
"She's very pretty." He manages to sound disinterested.
"Yes. The old man saw the resemblance to Ms Summers as well." Travers isn't fooled, gently takes the photo back. "He wants you to be her Watcher. As a personal favour."
He doesn't answer, still looking at the picture in Travers' hand.
"What's her name?"
"Alana Grey." Travers nods, recognising his surrender. "I'm sure you will do an exceptional job with her."
"No doubt." He doesn't hide the sarcasm in his tone. "I did such a wonderful job with Buffy, after all."
"The old man trusts you."
"I still think you're too much of a dreamer. You'll let this girl get away with too much, the way you let -"
"Life is difficult enough for these young women without us making it harder for them." His words are sharper than he had intended. "Sorry."
His apology is waved away,
"I'll let the old man know you've accepted."
"How is he?"
"Some days are better than others. Today, he's not too bad. Do you want to speak to him?"
"Later. I should meet my new Slayer, now." He fights to ignore the acid in his stomach when he says those words.
"Very well. Here's the address."
He takes the scrap of paper, memorises the words, hands it back.
"I try not to dream so much, any more, you know." He offers the words like a peace offering, "Too many of them turned into nightmares."
A stiff answering nod, a ghost of a smile.
"But you haven't stopped dreaming entirely."
"No. I suppose not."
"That's why the old man wanted you. He said you were the only one who could show this girl that being the slayer was more than just killing things."
"A lesson I learned from him. I wish I'd learned it earlier."
"How ... how is Lisa?"
He's been waiting for the question, but is a bit surprised that it came now.
"She's well. She made a cake for me." He smiles at the thought of all his daughter's work, then sobers. "She misses her mother."
Melissa Travers nods, looks down.
"Tell her I miss her, too."
"We both miss you." His voice thickens, despite his efforts to control it.
"We drove each other crazy." She reminds him, "Just like my father said we would."
He nods, smiles as best he can.
"Doesn't make me stop missing you. I'm a dreamer, remember?"
"How could I forget?" her words are quiet, almost tremulous.
He kisses her, and her lips are still as soft as he remembers.
"Goodbye." He strokes her cheek, glances at the old man in the wheelchair, "Give Rupert my regards."