Title: The Ghost Who Walks
Author: Beer Good
Rating: PG13
Word Count: ~1400
Fandom: Buffyverse
Characters: Buffy, Dana
Warning: General angst. Mystical mental illness. Mention of character death.
Summary: Way post-series (2040-ish). Buffy pays her semi-annual visit to the one they could never save.

"Je est un autre." ("I is another.")
- Arthur Rimbaud

The Ghost Who Walks

They call it the ghostwatch. Nobody comes here much anymore, but there's always two girls on guard duty, a rotating schedule among the more trusted ones, called the ghostwatch. Not so she hears it, obviously.

When the elevator doors ding open the guards look up, nod to Buffy as she steps out, and go back to playing some videogame. On the screen, digital characters beat each other bloody, then resurrect and start all over again like nothing happened. The pile of broken gamepads in the corner has grown since last time she was here; not for the first time, Buffy considers hiring Slayers out to stress test electronics equipment. "Hey."

"Oh, hey."
"Miss Summers."

"Everything OK?" Stupid question; nothing much has changed in years. "Is she awake?" Buffy can see the CCTV screen herself, but it's common courtesy to ask. This is their turf, after all, they're the ones who actually get to see her every day.

One of the Slayers – early 20s, a veteran, a kid – casts an eye on the screen (her partner automatically holds back her video game character for half a second, not taking the opportunity for a cheap blow; they're a team). "Yeah. You can go right in." Sometimes, if one of the guards is a rookie, she'll ask if Buffy knows security protocol, always to the embarrassed amusement of her partner. Not that they've needed security protocol for a long time, but you never know.

Buffy pauses at the door. That weird feeling... like there should be a sign saying "Principal."

Inside the room it's as cozy and strangely impersonal as ever; like a badly put-together showroom, filled with stuff that's too obviously supposed to look like expressions of individuality but doesn't feel lived in – which is ironic, considering how long she's been here. The books are all untouched past page 17 or so, the posters on the walls are all Monet and Klimt, the little garden outside is surrounded by a wall covered in ivy to hide that it's, well, a wall. The bed has hooks and loops meant for restraints, leather belts and chains strong enough to hold down a superbeing, but for the most part they remain hidden beneath the brightly-colured bedspread; they haven't needed them in years.

Dana is sitting on the bed. She doesn't look up when Buffy enters. Buffy's struck yet again by how Dana is clearly older than her (not that much older, Summers). Her hair is almost completely gray now, her body heavy (by Slayer standards – even without exercise, that metabolism is still there), her eyes hollowed out by a lifetime of insomnia. In the early years, she'd refuse to sleep and they had to dope her up regularly. She gave that up after a few years. Now she mostly spends her days drifting in and out of fitful sleep. It's when she sleeps that she dreams. It's when she's awake that she gets to rest.

"Hi. How are things?" Buffy's learned to avoid certain words and phrases, be careful with others. Stick to the passive tense and avoid pronouns as much as possible; there are days when they get switched around in here.

"Same," Dana replies. "You died."

Buffy really hates how the English language has no clear difference between all the different you. It's all so much easier in Italian where you can tell if verbs are plural or singular. "Yeah," she grimaces. "We lost two girls since last time. The last vamps in Spain put up a fight, and -"

"Three." Dana suddenly meets her eye, her voice insistant. "We lost three."

"No, just the – Oh." Too focused on the job again. "Yeah, you're right, three. Rona had a heart attack a couple of months ago. Fiftyone years old... we're dying of natural causes now. That's..." ...probably a good thing in some way, but she can't come up with a way to say that. Especially to someone who probably knew exactly what it felt like. Instead, Buffy moves over to the window, pulls the curtain aside and looks out at the neatly kept garden. (Officially therapeutical. In reality, mostly the work of the more green-fingered guards.) "I like the, um, purple ones over by the wall. What are they?"

Dana shrugs.

"Listen, it's a beautiful day, you sure you don't wanna go outside? I mean, we could go get a cup of coffee or something? There's a new place down the block..."

"No." Of course. They've been over that a few dozen times. Dana doesn't want out, she wants in. She wants walls thick enough to keep them out, to not have a head full of Slayer life she'll never lead. Obviously, they've tried to help her; medicine, magic, even some weird secret agency in LA, but years ago they gave up. Dana is who she is, the Slayer who dreams every fight ever fought, with new ones added daily, and barring a miracle it's who she'll remain. "You can't. I... I kill. I say I slay. It never stops. Just the kill. Always."

"I know you killed people, but it was decades ago, Dana." The same old useless excuse. "Hell, half of my best friends are murderers. They can't change that. But they..." What? Stop? Move on? Try to make up for it? Seek redemption? Grow ugly purple flowers nobody ever sees?

"No, it wasn't. It's now. Every night. Cutting, dust, cutting... I do it. You know... I know it's not me. I know you... I do it." She shudders, looks down at her hands, making an effort to unclench her fists. Takes a deep breath. "Okay. You, Slayer. We know why you're here. Let's hear it."

And so Buffy does what she always does when she comes here: she gives her report. She tells Dana what they've done since the last time. The lives they've saved. The monsters they've killed. The apocalypses they've stopped. The lives they lead. How easy it is. How much better the world is. She does it mechanically, not expecting approval or relief, but because there needs to be balance. Because she needs to know that it's working, that it's really working, that there are hardly any monsters anymore, that they have truly genuinely saved the world, perhaps for good. That she was supposed to die at 16 and now she's going to be a grandmother.

"That's good," Dana nods when she's done. "Children, that's... My mother used to..." She tries to remember something, something from ten thousand lifetimes ago. "She used to say she got you for her sins. Sorry. Me. Got me. I... That's not what I meant to..."

"I know." Buffy puts her hand on Dana's shoulder.

"I'm going to sleep now."

"Are you sure?"

"I have to." Dana shoots her a duh look, and for a second the 60-ish woman looks almost childlike. "We're only human. We need to sleep."

"Right." Buffy stands. "You promise to let me know if there's something you need?"

Dana nods, like every other time she's promised that. To date, she never has.

When she leaves the room, leaving it unlocked as always, one of the Slayers - Buffy thinks her name might be Lucy – is doing a victory dance in front of the other, apparently having won a particularly difficult game. They quickly look up when Buffy comes out, noting her mood, not asking any questions they know she won't answer. They're not jailers. Dana's free to leave any time she wants.

They call it the ghostwatch. Nobody comes here much anymore, but they all know about it. Of course, to most of the new generations, it's already a myth, a campfire story they heard back in training: the lone Slayer, the sacrifice who deals in nothing but death and violence, dying a bit every time she kills, every time she dies. To them, in control of their normal lives, it's incomprehensible. Buffy sort of loves them for that, but she never talks about the last of the old ones. It's not that she wants them to forget Dana, it's just that she can't face the hint of something in their eyes – in her own eyes – when they think of the one who carries the weight of the world on her shoulders and can never lift it. It looks just a little too much like gratitude.