The shot rang out. Giles could hear the echo. He stood. But that's as far as his brain could take him. He knew what that shot meant. His slayer was dead, and this time there was no coming back. After all the demons she'd fought and vampires she'd slain, she had been undone by a gun and a ghost. A ghost who understood her pain so much more than he ever could.
He hadn't realized how badly Buffy had taken Angel's change. The first few days after his transformation had been spent in trying to stop the Judge, and then in trying to identify the werewolf. And then he had found Jenny in his bed. He'd allowed his own emotions to cloud his judgments, to rule his actions. He had stopped seeing Angel as the man who had once loved his Slayer and risked everything for her. Instead, he saw the vampire only as the creature that had murdered the woman he loved. It never occurred to him that Buffy's image of Angel had changed as well. She looked at the creature that wore the face of her lover and she saw only the man she had destroyed, that she had loved.
Giles had known Buffy for two years. He had trained her, watched her fight. He'd listened to her fears and watched her struggle daily over home, school, and slaying. He could never quite claim that he empathized with her feelings, but he had thought he could sympathize with her. But her words earlier showed him that he was decidedly clueless when it came to his slayer's current emotional state.
The way she had spoken about James, her seeming lack of compassion for what he had gone through- it hadn't sounded like Buffy at all. But Cordelia's comment about over identifying had opened his eyes. Buffy looked at James and saw herself. James had loved Ms. Newman, and she had returned the affection. Her decision to end things in order to protect him had cost both of them their lives. James had allowed his passion to take control, had acted rashly, had destroyed his love. Buffy believed she had done the same thing.
Giles raised his hands to his face, only slightly surprised to find tears there. Of course he would mourn Buffy, how could he not? She had given up so much, suffered so much, and yet experienced so little outside of pain and death. He'd told her a few weeks ago standing over Jenny's grave that he'd only ever buried one person that he loved. She would make number two, and yet what he felt for Buffy was so much more than love. Despite all the warnings from the Council, Giles had come to care for Buffy as one would a child, a daughter. She was no longer just his charge, she was his friend. He truly believed that he could not love her more even if she had been his own blood.
She had become the central point of his life, as a slayer always was for her watcher. But Buffy's hold on his attention spanned so much more than just her duty. He had come to care about what she cared about – her friends, her mother. He celebrated her victories, academic or over evil, he commiserated her pain. He wanted only good things for her, wished he had the ability to protect her from the world. He'd thought that she had come to a place in her life where she was in equilibrium, in the very least, if not genuinely happy.
But he did not live in her mind, did not feel her pain. She had loved Angel dearly; perhaps more than he himself had cared for Jenny. They had fought side by side, and it was possible that Angel had understood how she felt more than any other. Before losing his soul, it had seemed as if Angel was as trapped in his way of life as Buffy was in hers. But to be the cause of his undoing, it must have broken something in Buffy. The way in which she lost him was enough to break any girl's heart or spirit.
Add to that the guilt she must feel every time Angelus killed, Giles was amazed that Buffy could bring herself to function at all. But that was the amazing thing about this girl, his slayer. She had enormous wells of strength, not just the physical strength of the slayer, but strength of character and heart as well. She had found a way to survive the loss of the man she loved and she had found a way to handle the guilt of Angelus' deeds.
But it seems as though James had sensed in her these very attributes. The ghost had fixated on her, seeing in her what he himself was. He had pulled her into his thrall and led her into that high school to die. And there was nothing Giles had done to stop it. Even now, as her body lay cooling in the quad, he could do nothing but stare at the building in which two people he loved had been murdered, within weeks of each other. If they ever found a way to clear the wasps, he was unsure he'd be able to bring himself to enter it again.
He was pulled out of his reverie by sobs. He turned his head to the three teenagers that were with him. Tears were streaming down Xander's face, and he had put his arms around Cordelia, who was sobbing into his shoulder. Willow had no tears. She was simply staring into the distance, a look of disbelief on her face. Giles placed a hand on her shoulder and she turned to him. The tears on his face must have been all the affirmation she needed. He saw the information pass over her face, saw the strength leave her body.
He caught her as she fell, pulling her against him. She had lost the ability to hold herself up and Giles slowly sank to the ground with her. Her sobs were coming fast now, she could no longer catch her breath. Giles wrapped his arms around her, trying to calm her, even as the same pain ran through his own body. He locked eyes with Xander over Willow's head. The same pain could be seen in his eyes.
Giles was unsure what to do. In his mind, he knew he needed to take care of Buffy's friends. He should take them home, calm them down. But his heart screamed to find Buffy, to make his way through the wasps and get to her body. Maybe it wasn't too late; maybe he could still help her. But in order to do anything, he had to find her.
Which is when the wasps parted. Giles' eyes left Xander's and refocused on Sunnydale High. He saw the opening and his body acted of its own accord. His arms left Willow and his feet were carrying him toward the building. His mind could think of only one thing, getting to Buffy. His feet took him to the courtyard, where the body of the first victim had been found. His eyes fell upon the blood stain, but he couldn't see a body anywhere.
"Where is she?" Xander's question cut through Giles' fog. He hadn't realized that he'd been followed. He turned around to find all three teenagers, standing there, waiting for an answer. He turned back to the blood on the ground, unable to speak.
It was possible that the gun shot had not killed her. As the Slayer, she was incredibly resilient. It was also possible that she could have survived the fall; her body was used to taking a beating. But both of them, together? It was unlikely. And where was her body? Who had played James to her Grace? Again he turned his eyes to the three students, "I don't know."
It was Cordelia who spoke up next, "We have to find her."
Her words were like a wake up call to Xander. He took off into the school, calling her name. Giles followed more slowly, the two girls with him. If Buffy was alive, she would have gone to the place she felt safest in the school, which meant he would find her in the library. He moved down the hallway, trying to prevent the hope that was rising in his chest. He wasn't sure he'd be able to handle it if he walked into his library to find his slayer dead, or worse, dying. It would be more traumatic by far to find her dead among his books than it had been to find Jenny in his bed.
But he had been right, that's where he found her, but she was gloriously alive. Giles stood in the library's doorway, flanked on either side by Willow and Cordy. Xander entered a moment later. They stood staring at Buffy where she sat at the table, lost in her own thoughts. Giles knew that look, knew she needed time before facing the others. He turned to them, "Go and check on everything. Make sure the snakes are gone." Xander and Cordelia both seemed ready to argue, but Willow placed her hand on Xander's shoulder and led them out.
Giles approached Buffy wearily, not wanting to frighten her. He could read the pain on his Slayer's face. Before he could find the words to comfort her, she spoke. "He forgave me, told me he still loved me."
It was with those words that everything clicked for Giles. James had been drawn to Buffy, not for her to play Ms. Newman's role, but for her to play his own. It was obvious now, just how similar Buffy's pain must be to James' own. Buffy had not been the one shot, she had been the shooter. And the scene that had been acted out had spoken words not just from James' heart but from Buffy's as well. It was only natural that James would draw in the person who had left Buffy to play the part of Ms. Newman.
Buffy had been so adamant that James did not deserve forgiveness, because she had believed that she herself did not deserve forgiveness. Whatever had transpired here tonight between the ghosts of James and Ms. Newman, between her and Angel, had left her stunned and confused. He was at a loss of words, unsure of how to help her, of what to say. "I don't understand, Giles. I just don't get it. We shouldn't have been forgiven. I shouldn't have been forgiven." The tears fell then, "Angel should hate me. Oh, God, Giles, I killed him." The tears flowed now.
It was not the first time he'd seen her cry, not even the first time he'd seen her cry over Angel. But this was different. Her tears now were for the loss of the man she loved, and her part in his destruction. It had been easy for Giles to forget that it was not Angel who did these things, but he saw now that Buffy had no trouble making that distinction. In her eyes, Angel had died months ago, in his bed, in her arms. The creature who now caused her pain was just a vampire who wore his face, whom in her eyes, she had created.
Ms. Newman's possession of Angelus would have brought Buffy's love back. He would have held her, and comforted her. He would have told her he didn't blame her and that he still loved her. And if those words hadn't been enough to break what was left of her spirit, he was almost positive that the final act that freed James' spirit would have been a kiss. A kiss that would have started with the vampire and slayer possessed, but ended with Buffy once again being rejected by the image of the man she loved.
Giles had no words that would make Buffy feel better. He knew there was nothing he could say that would absolve her of what she believed were her sins. So he did the only thing that he could, he pulled her into his arms. He held her while she broke down, as she had done for him, as he should have done weeks ago.
That's how Willow, Xander, and Cordelia found them when they returned to the library. The Watcher's arms wrapped tightly around his Slayer as she let out all the sadness and grief that she'd tried so hard to hold onto since her birthday. They watched for only a moment, as Buffy sobbed uncontrollably into Giles' arms. The feeling of intrusion became too great, and the three of them backed out of the library. They did not know what had happened to Buffy within the walls of this school this evening, and they accepted that they probably never would. But they knew she wouldn't want them to see her like that.