Okay, so this is the second funeral based fic I've posted in less than a month, but I promise I'm not obsessed with death, or anything like that, that's just the way the plot bunnies have bitten me... Let me know what you think - I appreciate the feedback!

She was thirty-five when it happened, older than she'd ever thought she would be, but much too young at the same time. It was strange the way life was like that. He was sixty-six, too young if you asked her, although he'd lasted longer than the doctors had expected.

She straightened her black shirt on her shoulders, uncomfortable in her own skin. She hadn't spoken since she'd heard the news, had barely eaten, and slept even less. The doctor's regretful announcement had been almost lost in Willow's grief, her quiet sobs making it hard to hear. Xander hadn't spoken, but had crumbled in on himself, his shoulders slumping as he struggled to understand the words.

The sun was high in the sky when she walked outside and it didn't seem fair that the world was still spinning when he was gone. Her feet carried her slowly toward the church, somehow knowing where to go, even as her mind tried to shrink back from the reality of what was going to happen today.

Today she buried Rupert Giles.

They'd been assigned to each other twenty years before through some arbitrary system invented by some guys in England whose mission in life seemed to be annoying her. And, at the beginning, they both might have agreed that the Council's sadistic whimsy had been the only reason they had been partnered. It hadn't taken long for either of them to discover that they were much better suited for each other than they could have ever guessed upon first meeting.

They had become partners, then friends, and finally family, closer than father and daughter. At least, closer than her actual father. He'd been with her for everything in her life that meant anything. Of all the things they'd fought together though, she hadn't expected cancer to be what stole him from her.

She had been by his side since they'd found out, her own insistence driving him to the doctor as she recognized how thin he'd gotten, how frail he now seemed when he'd always been her rock, the one person she knew would never fail her.

There were cars filling the lot outside the church, and she wove through the crowd without a thought, sliding easily between people she didn't recognize. She signed the guestbook on autopilot, her eyes glancing unseeingly around the room.

A tall man in a suit stepped into her path, finally getting her attention to the present. "Miss Summers?" the man asked, and she nodded wordlessly. "If you would come with me," he directed, one hand on her elbow escorting her into a private room.

Willow and Xander were already there, and she froze inside the doorway, letting them come to her. Willow's arms were tight around her, her old friend's face burying itself in her shoulder. Xander's arms were around them both, and she let her arms find a place around each of them.

"I'm so sorry," Xander murmured, knowing the words could never be enough, could never cover their pain, but he was unable to stay silent, needing to express something of their grief.

Buffy just nodded, still unable to speak, not able to look her own pain straight on, afraid that the loss would kill her. She'd lost many people that had meant something to her, Angel, her mother, Tara, Spike, they'd all been taken from her life, but Giles had been there for all of those, and now it was his loss that was hitting her almost harder than any of the others.

She heard the door open behind them, but didn't move from the comfort of her oldest friends. Her little sister's presence was felt as the younger Summers squirmed her way into the group, wiggling herself into her sister's arms.

No one spoke, Buffy wrapping her arms protectively around Dawn as the younger girl cried, her soft hiccups the only sounds in the room. Willow and Xander kept themselves close, their arms around the sisters.

The room was tense, the friends clinging to each other as they struggled to deal with the loss, but knowing that there was no relief for them, not yet, possibly not ever.

How could any of them recover from losing the man who'd been a father to all of them? Everyone must lose their parents, and they had all lost people they loved, more people than they could bear to think about, but the loss of Giles had always felt impossible, something that could never happen. It was one cruelty too far.

The funeral director came in again, clearing his throat gently to get their attention. Buffy lifted her eyes to meet him, nodding when he spoke.

"It's time," he said simply, two easy words that signaled the beginning of the end. Giles had been gone for three days, but this, burying him, would be the first solid evidence of that Buffy had acknowledged. She hadn't seen the body, had been unable to bear going into the morgue, confronting the lifeless corpse of her mentor, Watcher, and father.

The casket was open and looking into it, seeing his body, was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do. He had been pale from the sickness, had lost an unhealthy amount of weight, and his body looked almost fake. She blinked and had a vivid memory of watching Dawn reach up to touch their mother's face in the morgue, and had to stop herself from reaching out to touch his cold skin, knowing that to do so would drive her irrevocably over the edge.

The others were behind her, and Willow's gentle hand on her elbow prompted her to move and they filed into their seats in the front row. The eulogy was too simple to capture the magnitude of Giles' life, the things he had meant to people, the things that he had done, but Buffy was having trouble concentrating on the words. She caught herself glancing to the spot beside her, expecting to see Giles giving her a chiding look, but he wasn't there, and she let her eyes slide closed at the sharp, painful reminder.

The rest of the funeral was a blur, the Slayer deliberately shutting out the rest of the speeches, unable to deal with other people's pain when her own was threatening to destroy her so completely.

Finally, the funeral director signaled for the pallbearers, and Willow had to get Buffy's attention with an elbow to the side. She got to her feet, following the others to their spots on the sides of the casket. Willow and Xander were on each side, and Dawn walked in front of it while Buffy carried the back by herself.

The graveyard was right outside, and they walked slowly, hearing the other attendees following their procession. Willow had prepared the gravesite the night before, consecrating the ground with holy water, crosses buried at intervals around the hole, and one or two other spells that she ensured Buffy would make it impossible for anything evil to use Giles' body in any sort of ritual or creepy thing. The Slayer hadn't understood the details, but she appreciated the assurances.

They slid the casket onto the pedestal that would lower it into the hole, and they took their seats again, greeting the seemingly endless line of mourners, shaking hands, and accepting hugs from people they didn't know, but who had known him and would feel his loss.

Finally, it was time to put the box in the ground, and Buffy stepped forward alone to lower it in, winding the crank slowly, her eyes locked on steadily descending coffin. Sudden tears filled her eyes and she blinked them away, feeling the hot trails slide down her cheeks and drip from her chin.

Her eyes were still cloudy when she took the shovel and started filling the hole in with dirt, ignoring her nice clothes, the dirt she knew would find its way into her shoes and coat her clothes. She needed to do this for him. Without comment, the others joined her, finding shovels from somewhere. Even Dawn helped, though she did slip her shoes and her sweater off before she took up her shovel.

They filled in the hole without help from the workers of the memorial gardens, and they lingered together at the grave until the sunset was threatening.

Willow was crying softly, her arm around Dawn's waist, while Xander had an arm around both of their shoulders.

"Buffy," Dawn said softly, and only her sister's voice, so sad and broken, could have dragged her from the graveside, the marker that denoted the final resting place of Rupert Giles, beloved friend and father. The statement seemed too small to capture everything he had meant to them, but it was the epitaph they had decided on.

I'm an orphan now, was Buffy's last thought as she turned her back on the grave. Her family was there waiting on her, and she amended herself. An orphan, but not alone.