He thought it was his worst nightmare back then, only a few months after she’d stormed out of his library for the first time. Her headstone in the suddenly dark cemetery, Giles looking down at his biggest mistake engraved into stone forever. But the nightmares faded and Buffy returned to him unharmed.
The reality of her first death shortly afterward had never properly set in. He was unconscious for a great deal of it and by the time everything was said and done Buffy was in front of him again, perhaps a spark of innocence extinguished behind her curtain of wet hair, but ultimately okay. He’d chalked that up to luck and didn’t dare investigate it further. Rupert couldn’t contend with writing the words in his journal, acknowledging he’d been unable to protect her. But then Kendra arrived, confirming the truth. Even once Kendra was killed, Buffy lived on still, and Rupert with her.
Once, he not only did not protect Buffy but knowingly engaged in harming her. Seeing the trust in her eyes as he injected her, then her awareness quietly slip away. Against all odds, a simply human Buffy was stronger than anyone gave her credit, and she survived. An even larger miracle was being allowed to clean her wounds after the fight, when he had done absolutely everything to lose her trust. The nightmare was staved off once more.
But now, digging every shovelful, with every crumb of dirt packing under his nails and into his shoes, Rupert can’t escape this final loss. Willow had offered to clear the land with magic. He’d silently declined, waving her off as he broke ground with his shovel. Some time later, Xander arrived and tried to jump down in the hole with him, until an uncharacteristic outburst from Giles had left the boy wide-eyed and backing away as if from a wild animal. There are blisters on his murderous palms now, searing raw, but still he carves out a space in the ground for her like he’d carved out a space in himself, for all the good it did.
He doesn’t let himself think of logistics, how they’ll protect the Hellmouth without her. He shoves away thoughts of running, of putting an ocean between himself and where he failed her. For now, he’s making himself feel this. He blinks hard and wipes his face, unsure how much of the moisture is sweat and how much is tears. He wasn’t usually prone to crying; he’d been smacked with a ruler too many times as a child to see it as anything but a show of weakness, even though more sensitivity seems to be allowed these days. The last time he’d properly let himself go, after Jenny, Buffy held him as they rocked in the street, hair singed and skin bruised. He’d tried to be there for the others in the days following Buffy’s jump, but he barely registered their hold on him as the younger ones shook with tears. He’ll never so much as touch his Slayer again.
All the lost possibilities seem to flood over him at once. It’s not as if they ever had enough down time or expectations in her survival to think too much about what Buffy’s future may have been. Slayers come with an expiration date; that was the first and most important thing coming from a family of Watchers could teach you. But they never seemed to make him understand what he’d be losing. Maybe she would have gone back to her classes, graduated college. Maybe she would have settled down with someone who didn’t hurt her, someone she deserved. Maybe even married them, with Giles leading her down the aisle.
He shakes his head violently, as if he can dislodge the thought. As much as he might have wanted it, he wasn’t her father. Being raised as he was ensured that every tug of affection he felt for his charge was laden with the reminder that moments like these, waist deep in damp earth, were never far away. He’d existed between roles for years now, never quite filling the gap Buffy’s father left behind, but never keeping himself distant enough to simply be a Watcher, ready to sacrifice her for the greater good. Then again, Buffy did that for him. For all of them. A better person by far, to the end.
Giles should call Xander soon and have him bring the coffin. He couldn’t stand to have it looming over him the whole time he was digging, but the sun will be setting soon and the last thing they need is a swarm of vampires during the burial.
He heaves one more shovelful out then surveys his work. This one last act for Buffy, a gift far less than she deserves, but all that he can do now. He scrapes along the edges, trying to perfect it somehow, as if it won’t always be the most wretched thing he’s ever touched. If he doesn’t finish digging the grave, they can’t lower her into it.