Ghosts of Sunnydale

~ Written for the Secret Slasha 2002

Rupert thinks to himself that he hadn't planned on leaving. As soon as he thinks it, he realises that it isn't true. He had planned on leaving. Long years back, when he was fresh to the field and with as little idea what would happen as every other Watcher before him and after on their first assignments. He had planned on being the absolute best Watcher he had been trained to be, then once his Slayer was dead, herself, he would leave again and return home to join the ranks of the Watchers who had done their part in the good fight. The greatest and saddest duty a Watcher could perform, he had planned for, and expected to be back in England by the new century.

How little he had known, and how much he had had to let go of, in order to survive. His naivete, now, seems absurd. It must have been a mask, he tells himself. But he knows it was not. He truly was that ignorant of what would happen. It occurs to him as he watches this train of thought, that he should have been kinder to Wesley. But that was a bad time, and he knows he couldn't have been kind to anyone, back then. No one except the children, of course. He thinks -- he may be wrong but he thinks he has always been as kind as was possible for him to be, to them.

That isn't to say he was never hard, or firm, or that he never hurt them even with his kindness. He knows he has, and he doesn't want to think about those sorts of memories but this is where his mind has brought him. Those children who, now, are no longer quite children but who still are so young, and somehow still project an air of innocence despite what they've seen.

Perhaps it's merely hope, and not innocence. He doesn't think any of them truly think themselves innocent. But even as he left them, walked away to the aeroplane, he saw their faces, their smiling sad expressions, and saw only innocence there. Hurting them all, again, but it was out of kindness that he left. Or so he tells himself. Kindness to whom, he still isn't sure whether he can say.

Rupert knows there were important reasons for him to leave. Sometimes at night it's difficult to recall how important those reasons are, and he finds himself reaching for the telephone, knowing that it's still early halfway across the globe and someone will be home, able to tell him what's on the plan for their night, and whether it's another night of slaying or another averted apocalypse. Presumably if it isn't averted, he won't have to call.

Some nights he rings, he gives in and tells himself there is no reason not to. Mostly he rings Buffy, talking both with her, and with Dawn, as the absentee father-figure he is. Sometimes he rings Willow, telling her he merely wants to know what Buffy might not be telling him, but he knows Willow is less likely to tell him than Dawn is. He suspects Willow knows he wants to check on her and Tara, as well. He rings Anya, ostensibly to check on the shop and to verify she is still delighted with her role as American Merchant. He pretends he doesn't mind when she hands the phone over to Xander, and they talk in more stilted words than with any of the girls. But despite the veiled insults and incomprehensible remarks about his homeland, he still finds that he is reassured to have spoken with them all, regularly if not often.

Once he rang Faith, and she refused to take the call. He has regulated her to one of his ghosts -- he can't reach her from here, and he isn't sure if he ever will. He's toyed with the idea of phoning Wesley, down in Los Angeles and trying to make something of what should have been a fruitless situation. But there it's him who refuses to make the connection. He hasn't spoken to Wesley since the day he left Sunnydale, broken and disgraced and doing a damnall fine job of refusing to show it. He's proud of what has become of his 'fellow ex-Watcher', but he hasn't got the right to say so.

He did call Cordelia, exactly twice, and heard all about everyone and everything. Cordelia's voice had changed, though he hadn't told her so. But he'd heard how much she had aged since the night of graduation and it still pains him to think she has grown-up faster than any of the rest of them. But it was, at least, a delight to talk to her and hear all about her new life and how she was fitting into it. The second time he'd rung, another woman had answered and Cordelia's half of the conversation had been short and rather distracted.

There are others he can't ring from here. He wishes he could, and he doesn't tell himself if this plays a part in why he had to leave. It it were a part, it has failed, for he has brought his ghosts with him and they live in his flat now as much as they ever did in the rooms from which they left him. He decides tonight that it was not to escape them that he left, and feels better about not having one more failure haunting him. The ghosts have enough company as it is.

He shouldn't keep them company himself, but it's long past 1 a.m. and he hasn't been able to sleep. Times like these it is most difficult not to sit among them and listen. He could open a book and pretend he cannot hear, but he knows from experience that it often only makes them louder. Instead, he's made himself a drink, and is trying to let them have their say, and hopes that tomorrow they will be sated.

When the knock comes at the door, he almost fails to answer it. He turns, first, and stares at the front door, wondering when his ghosts learnt to knock. He recalls Cordelia's ghost, and realises that in fact they can do such. It's late enough and he is tired enough that he feels actual trepidation as he gets up and goes to the door. He grabs a short blade along the way, a habit ingrained that he doesn't even wonder how he chooses what to leave nearby. He opens the door and is surprised to find there is, in fact, a ghost there.

"Hey." The ghost nods, and doesn't seem worried when he doesn't set the short blade down.

"Oz." He shakes his head. "What--" He stops. Starts to invite the young man inside and only stops himself out of another long ingrained habit. He takes a step backwards, and waits, and Oz knows enough to know it's the only invitation he will get.

Oz grins, a little, and he finds himself suddenly relaxing. Confused, and a dozen questions have already sprung to his lips before Oz can even turn around after his brief survey -- visual and olfactory -- of the flat. "It's late. My bad."

"Not at all," he assures him. "I wasn't in bed." He gestures towards his attire -- still in his street clothes, even if he hadn't been out. One more habit to break, now that he was no longer going out at night to kill things. He realises he has the weapon still in hand, and sets it back on the pegs he's set into the wall for just this purpose. For some visitors, he explains that it is merely decorative.

Oz nods, and is still smiling. Waiting for something, and Rupert starts, and realises what he's waiting for.

"What are you doing in Bath? Is everything all right? Where have you--" That last question he isn't certain he's allowed to ask.

"Visiting. Yes. Traveling." A brief quirk of his smile. "In that order."

He finds himself smiling in return. Oz has always had this affect on him, as though he were projecting his own emotions onto those around him. He's processed the answers and realises that his set of questions is still mostly unanswered. His fault, he knows, for not having asked the right ones. "Are you staying long?" He hopes Oz can't hear that he forced the last word out.

"Not sure." There is a barest shake of the head. "I don't make plans, so much. I go. I stay. I leave." He shrugs, and his beat-poet hippie attitude has suddenly developed a faultline. Rupert wonders if it's always been there and he never saw it.

"You're welcome to stay," he says, though he knows it isn't necessary. Had Oz not been sure, he would have waited until morning to knock on the door. Oz nods, once, confirming it. He says nothing, though, and Rupert wonders if he should try more questions.

But it's late, and he suddenly feels as though he could sleep. The other ghosts have grown silent, talking amongst themselves where he can't hear them.

"I was just--" he begins, and he has already slipped into the shortened conversational style that mirror's Oz' own. He merely nods towards the bedroom, and smiles back when Oz agrees.

Rupert turns off the lights as they go, stopping at the bathroom to get rid of the last of the whiskey, and when he strips for bed and crawls inside he finds the sheets already warmed.