He wasn't handling matters very well. Oh, the others all believed that he was, but he wasn't. They would say things like, "You're a rock, Giles. We couldn't hold things together if it weren't for you," and he would wonder what they meant by that. He had trouble believing that he was truly that skilled of a performer, that the deceit that he practiced upon himself in order to motivate him to get out of bed in the morning actually fooled anyone at all. Perhaps it didn't. Perhaps they were just pleasantly surprised that he hadn't crawled into a bottle and stayed there. Perhaps they weren't admiring him at all, but were simply condescending to him. Or perhaps they cared so little about actually *seeing* him that they were fooled after all. The emotionally needy part of him desperately hoped that the last possibility wasn't the correct one, even as the logical part of him knew that it was.
No, he wasn't handling matters well. Oh, he did the things that needed to be done. He kept track of the books and inventory for his store, he watched after Dawn, he trained the Buffybot, he went on patrol ... no one could fault him for not living up to his responsibilities. But emotionally? Let's just say that the Council would be extremely disappointed in him. He had spent more than twenty years of his life learning how to care for a Slayer and how to let her go, but he just couldn't seem to get a handle on the latter part. Obviously he was a very slow learner.
Giles knew what the problem was, of course. Californians smothered themselves with psychobabble the way gypsies wore jewelry, and he had picked up quite a lot of it over the years. He had tried very hard to avoid the pseudo-intellectualism of his pretentious neighbors, but no one could manage *that* particular feat for five solid years. But just because it sounded like something Mrs. Cavallero from three flats down would say, it didn't make it untrue. He needed closure.
Closure: what a stupid word. What an *American* word. As if his heart was a box and all he needed to do was to pull the lid down and latch it, and then he would be fine. His heart wasn't a box; it was a gaping wound, and his soul was seeping out of it. This laceration was killing him, and if he didn't find some "closure" soon, it would leave him an emotional vampire. Another animated corpse wandering around Sunnydale, drained of feelings rather than blood, but no less dead. A beating heart makes very little difference when the body lacks a soul.
Besides, he wasn't sure that he could take much more closure from Buffy.
She had threatened to kill him and had then jumped off of a tower. That seemed pretty final to him. Maybe it wasn't closure he needed after all, but rather blame. Yes, as odd as it sounded, Giles needed somebody to blame him for Buffy's death. Somebody that wasn't him.
He had seen a lot of death in his forty-five years. Too much death, and most of it his fault. And there was always someone there to tell him that. And always, always, a spark of self-preservation that denied culpability and allowed him to move on. (Or, as Mrs. Cavallero would say, "he would forgive himself and begin the healing process." She was the wisest fool he had ever met.)
He thought back to the first time this pattern had played itself out. He was 23 years old and was wearing tweed for the first time in his life. He had just returned to the Council and had picked out new clothes to go along with his new life. Somehow, it had seemed appropriate to wear his buttoned-down hairshirt to Randall's funeral. More penitent.
He stood alone, as did the other four survivors of the Eyghon mess, none of them able to look another in the eyes. At the end of the service, Randall's sister came up to him and slapped him across the face. "You bastard! How could you do this? And how dare you come to *here*, to Ran's resting place?" Giles was the only member of Randall's coven that she had met, so he bore the full brunt of her rage and grief. Suzanne ranted at him in screams shrill enough to pierce his eardrums, never stopping until she broke down in hysterics. When Randall's sister fell to the ground in despair, her husband continued the diatribe. He claimed that Randall would never have dabbled in magic if it hadn't been for him, that the boy would still be alive and in medical school were it not for his corruptive influence.
Giles remained silent throughout these tirades, knowing that they were more interested in letting off steam than in hearing the truth. Oh, there was truth in what they said, but there was also willful blindness. Giles had saved his friend before he killed him. Yes, Giles had introduced Randall to magic, and yes, he had gotten the boy hooked upon it. But Randall had had an addictive personality, and it was only the thrill of magic that had weaned him off of his heroin addiction. The boy wouldn't have been in medical school were it not for the magic; he would have been a street-corner junkie, or perhaps an unidentified corpse. Randall had been every bit as familiar with the risks as he was, and by rights should have borne an equal amount of the blame. Giles didn't object to playing the villain for Randall's grief-stricken family, however, for he had finally realized that it was a role and not reality. Their accusations brought him a clarity that he never would have found otherwise.
In the days and nights that followed, he clutched this new clarity in an iron grasp. He treasured it. It anchored him when he threw himself headfirst into his new training with the Watcher's Council. And so he began to heal.
A dozen years later, he found himself in an identical situation. He participated in a wetworks mission to take out a warlock who was raising zombies that went badly. While they were planning the operation, Giles had insisted that they needed more back up. Unfortunately, the rest of the team overruled him and the well-planned operation devolved into a chaotic slaughter. Giles was one of only two team members to survive.
To say he fell to pieces after the botched operation was putting it mildly. The ever-helpful Mrs. Cavallero would have nodded wisely and told him that he was suffering from "survivor's guilt," but pop psychology was not widely practiced among his fellow Watchers and no one had understood how he felt. He hadn't wanted to go to the funerals, but the head of wetworks bullied him into attending every one of them.
He sat alone during the funerals and stood alone during the wakes.
Near the end of the last reception, the wife of his closest friend approached him. Mary was a kind woman who had fed him many times, and Giles could not find it within himself to avoid her. She wanted to know why he had survived while her husband had not. She was too gracious to accuse him of letting Thomas die, but the implicit charge hung heavily in the air. Giles gave her an edited account of the disaster, being careful to stress Thomas' heroism.
Giles desperately wanted to bring some comfort to his friend's widow. To this end, he tried as hard as he could to take the blame upon himself, but his rationalizations rang false to him. As he rushed past descriptions of the bad decisions and foolhardy actions that had caused the disaster, he came to the surprising conclusion that the botched operation *wasn't* his fault at all. He had railed against those poor decisions at the time, but his arguments fell upon deaf ears. His fellow team members fell victim to their own arrogance, and he was not to blame for that. This epiphany was closely followed by the realization that he wasn't cut out for the amoral machismo of covert operations.
The next day, Giles brought his new realization before the head of wetworks and resigned. When he learned that the Council needed a researcher in the British Museum, he applied for the position even though there were a score of other applicants. He won the job, and so began to heal.
Less than a decade after Thomas' funeral, loss and self-loathing entered his life again. Within a few short months, Jenny was murdered because of her personal relationship with him, Kendra died while in his care, and his own Slayer disappeared. He was drowning beneath the guilt of these three losses ... until others pulled him out. Angelus had taunted him with his culpability for Jenny's death, Mr. Zabuto had suggested that his Slayer was too talented to die under the auspices of a capable Watcher, and Joyce had flat-out told him that she blamed him for her daughter's disappearance. To his surprise, something in him rejected all of these accusations. *Angelus* killed Jenny; not him. *Zabuto* trained Kendra, and if she was incapable of resisting Drusilla's thrall, then that was not his fault. And it was *Joyce* who threw Buffy out of her own home. All three blamed him for *their* actions, and so released Giles from his need to blame himself. They freed him.
Giles took his new freedom, and shook the dust of Sunnydale from his feet. He went looking for his Slayer. Although he didn't find her, the search occupied him fully and left him no time for brooding. Giles gave himself over to his obsession, and so he began to heal.
But now? There was no new life to challenge him, no new vocation to enchant him, no new obsession to distract him. And nobody to blame him. Nobody to free him.
Willow, Xander, Dawn ... they all smiled at him and made an effort to include him. They treated him like family; they loved him. Their love was killing him. He didn't want it. Before Buffy died, he had craved their love; now he craved their censure. And they wouldn't give it to him.
A few months ago, he had haltingly suggested that Buffy only killed herself because he left her no choice, he forced her to choose between her life and Dawn's. All of the Scoobies rushed to deny the suggestion, to insist that he had done everything he could for his Slayer, that it was only thanks to him that she lived as long as she had. He was a good man, they asserted, and an excellent Watcher. Buffy couldn't have asked for a better partner, they said. Their praise and encouragement pierced him far more painfully than the spear he recently took through his chest.
But nothing hurt worse than their continual insistence that he was in no way to blame for her death.
He *was* to blame. He knew it. He suspected that they knew it too, and were simply too kind to say so. Every waking hour of the day and every dreaming hour of the night, he stubbornly listed all the reasons why Buffy's death was his responsibility, his fault. If anyone else had laid the blame at his feet, Giles would have looked for a loophole, would have found a gap in his accuser's logic. But there was no accuser other than himself, and he hadn't won an argument with himself since the day Randall died. If someone would just scream at him that he had killed Buffy, he could give up his self-flagellation.
He could begin to heal.
Or perhaps not. Blame might ease his guilt a bit, but it wouldn't give him his damned "closure." As long as he was in California, ministering to Buffy's friends and taking care of Buffy's sister, he would never be free of her. As long as he was in California....
Perhaps the Scoobies would never blame him for Buffy's death, but the Watcher's Council would. If he were to leave Sunnydale and go back to England, he could go to Council headquarters and face a dozen accusations a day, both spoken and unspoken. His enemies on the Council would give him the absolution that he desperately needed. The exoneration that his kind-hearted friends denied him every time they gave him undeserved comfort.
And he would be away from Sunnydale. He could begin to close, or whatever the hell people did when they got "closure."
No, he wasn't handling matters well in Sunnydale, but he was certain that he would start to get a handle on things once he got to England. All he had to do was train the blasted robot, and then he would be free.
Giles smiled for the first time in nearly four months. He sat down to develop a thorough training routine for the Buffybot. Perhaps he could learn how to handle matters after all.