"Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 22"

by Lisette: Lisette_an@hotmail.com

Legalese: Look to first chapter for disclaimers and story ratings.

Author's Note: Please look to the end of this chapter for my usual notes! And thank you and please enjoy! ;p

As a piercing scream broke through the all-encompassing blanket that had smothered Harry's mind, the young wizard felt the peace that the lulling, muffled silence that had soothed his hurts, evaporate like cool fog on a rare sunny morning at Hogwarts. Muscles unconsciously tensing as his body instinctively tried to draw away from whatever screamed such torment, Harry nearly gasped as his senses became overloaded with a startling rush of sensory input.

Touch. Pain... his body seemed to radiate it even as rocks and stone bit through the thin leather jacket and pressed uncomfortably against his back. His head pounded as pain flared from a tender area on the back of his head that felt sticky and wet. Pain seared from his neck where an aching, trembling hand felt a small stream of warm, thick fluid trickle from a small wound. And worse of all, his entire body ached like it never had before. He felt so weak and drained and so very tired as he seemed to burn inside and out, as though a great current of energy had torn through him, even as another kind of energy seemed to prickle his skin and cause the fine hairs to rise with a static charge.

Smell. Blood... he could smell the rich tang of the blood that matted his hair and coursed down his neck in a small rivulet, burning his nostrils even as it mixed with the greasy tang of the dirty ground he lay upon.

Taste. Copper... he could taste the coppery blood that seemed to dance on his tongue and caused his stomach to violently protest the vile fluid.

Sound. Screaming... someone's agonized screams seemed to cause the very air around him to vibrate with sound as a strange wind buffeted his downed form. There was nothing outside the screams... well, that and a strange crackling noise that his floundering mind was unable to place.

Sense. Power.... unequivocal power. It was strange to somehow think that mere moments (or was it hours?) before, Harry had nearly been blown away by the power that was contained within the two Hell Gods. A power unlike anything he had ever felt before... until now. The power that bombarded that one, newly awakened sense was enough to almost drown out every single one of his other senses. It was immense. It was raw. And it was tearing him and everything around him apart.

Sight. darkness... and light. Eyes slowly blinking open, it took Harry a moment to discern the dark night sky amidst the searing light that burned everything that it seemed to touch. Confused, his eyes narrowed as he took in the shifting hues of the dark night sky, from the very blackest of blacks to varying shades of red and purple and even green, before exploding in light that seemed to rip the very sky itself until gaping chasms were opened from which the most unbelievable creatures emerged.

Stiffening, Harry slowly, painfully used his elbows to lift his upper body as his aching head turned towards the source of the power - and froze as his eyes lit on Buffy's small form. She was kneeling upon her knees a few feet before him, her slim hips clothed in blood-stained khaki while her blood-red sweater shifted with the torrent of wind that wrapped around her small form. Head tilted back to the heavens, her long blond hair had fallen loose from its restraint and whipped around her head, her green eyes pinched closed and her arms held out to either side as though offering some kind of plea towards the Heavens... and with a start he realized that her beautiful lips were spread wide in the very agonized scream that had woken him from his wearied slumber as green energy seemed to rip through her small form, battering her body and causing it to convulse even as it flew from her and attacked the very air that surrounded them - and as it brought down the barriers between all realities.

"No," Harry whispered, his fractured mind stumbling over the confusing pieces as he slowly, painfully pushed himself forward until he was sitting upright. He didn't understand this - none of this! He had drawn upon the darkest of magics, the magic of the Mouth of Hell itself in order to defeat the Hell Gods in a move that had very nearly destroyed himself. And it had worked. He had felt it work and everything should have been fine. He had done his part and he had saved them all... so why had Buffy used the key? He didn't understand and without understanding, he felt his reality begin to crumble. Literally and figuratively.

Turning away from the sight that seemed to burn spots in his vision, Harry took in the battlefield that had become scattered with the fallen forms of his wizarding friends - those that he had unconsciously drawn upon in order to ease the battering that his body had received from the dark magic. And beyond them stood those that he had been unable to draw upon - the muggles that contained no power of their own. A few feet away stood Xander, Willow and Tara - the three friends clinging to one another with tears in their eyes and pain etched into their faces. Beside them stood Wesley and Gunn - the dark-skinned man turning away from the breathtaking sight even as the other watched her resolutely through saddened eyes. And beyond them stood General Gregor, his wide eyes locked upon the sight that he and his brethren had worked for five centuries to prevent. Yet even as he watched, the General of the Knights of Byzantium seemed to overcome his shocked awe as he slowly reached down and unsheathed his sword. Confused, Harry merely watched for a moment as Buffy continued to decimate their world even as the General began to advance on her oblivious form - before everything clicked.

Stumbling to his feet and forgetting the pain and weakness that had laid him low only minutes before, Harry pushed himself forward until he was standing protectively before Buffy, his green eyes narrowed upon the knight. "What are you doing?" he demanded, his eyes never straying from the General's impassive brown eyes.

"I'm fulfilling the Key's last request," the man stated, his voice cool as he went to push past Harry - and froze as the girl's friends seemed to finally take notice of the building confrontation and moved to flank the young man. "This is the only way to raise the barriers once more."

For a moment - the slightest of moments - Harry faltered. He hadn't prepared for this eventuality for they had never worked out what they would do should the Key actually be activated - and now Harry found himself floundering. Helpless, he quickly looked to the others for answers, yet they all looked as lost as he. Even Wesley seemed torn, his thin shoulders lifting slightly in a gesture of helplessness that seemed somehow wrong from the brilliant man. For how much value could they place on one life when so many others hung in the balance? Even if that one person was their friend and, in Harry's case, the other half of his heart?

"If I don't, everyone will die," Gregor pressed, his eyes hard. "Think to your friends. Your family. Think to those you love who you will lose if we don't do this."

And Harry did. He thought of Sirius and Remus. He thought of Ron and Hermione. He thought of Dumbledore and McGonagall and Hagrid and even Snape. He thought of Xander and Willow and Tara. He thought of Giles and... and he thought of Buffy. And in that moment, he knew that he couldn't lose any of them. Any of them.

"I won't lose her," Harry stated, his voice firm as he dared the man to disagree. Then again, his threat was baseless and they both knew it as Harry visibly struggled to even stay standing, his previous struggle with the Hell Gods having drained everything there was in him. There was no way that he could prevent Gregor from going through with what he wanted to do from the beginning - but as everyone had tried to tell Harry and Buffy all along, they weren't alone in this. A fact that was quickly proven as Wesley, of all people, lifted a crossbow from the folds of his long jacket and leveled it at the general's temple - just as Buffy's scream finally fell silent, her arms falling limply to her sides as her head dipped towards her chest.

"You have five minutes," Wesley stated, his shadowed eyes darting briefly to nod in Buffy's direction. "That's all that we can give you."

"Then it'll have to be enough," Harry returned as he half-staggered, half-limped towards Buffy's crackling form. In a way, he was almost thankful for his immense weakness for that meant that he didn't have the strength to slow his momentum as the energy that crackled around Buffy's form slammed into him in waves of searing pain. It burned... she burned, and had he been able to stop, he was sure that his instincts would have overridden everything else as he would have certainly drawn away from the source of such power. Instead, he stumbled through the energy, through the very pain and fell to his knees before her.

Gasping, Harry felt the air burn his lungs as he forced his hands to lift and settle on Buffy's slender shoulders, his back arching as the energy coursed through his lean frame. A grimace twisting his handsome features, he forced his mind around the pain as his eyes locked on the tears that streamed down Buffy's cheeks, her features pinched and her eyes clenched shut. "Buffy," he wheezed, each breath of air costing him as the energy lashed out against the dark sky, dragons and demons and angels falling from the heavens. "Buffy! Open your eyes! Look at me," he ordered, striving to put some kind of power behind his words - and failing miserably, which left him only with one other thing. "Please, Buffy... just look at me," he whispered as he lifted one hand to tenderly cup against her trembling chin, his love lending strength to his words.

Slowly, inexorably Buffy seemed to fight against whatever was holding her as her eyelashes fluttered for a moment before they lifted to reveal a pair of red-rimmed, emerald colored eyes. "Harry, it hurts," she whispered before a whimper caused her back to stiffen as the energy seemed to make the air thick around them. "It hurts so much!"

"I know," Harry murmured, his eyes locking with her own, "but you have to make it stop now."

"I can't," Buffy sobbed, her small shoulders wracking with the force of her tears as the pain and energy - the power - filtered through a body that wasn't built to harbor it. It was too big, too vast, and far beyond her meager abilities to control. It was huge and amazing and it was destroying her just as quickly as it was destroying their world. "It's too much... too strong-"

"You have to," Harry cut in, his words wavering on stilted breaths as his one hand dug into her shoulder. "If you don't, then you'll kill us all," he argued as Buffy slowly began to shake her head.

He was asking too much of her. He was asking something of her that was beyond her control. Fate had demanded a sacrifice from her and she had obliged - and didn't he see how she was suffering for it? She didn't want the world to end. She didn't want her friends to die. Couldn't he see that? She made her sacrifice to save them all and now it was out of her control. Now all that was left was left to him - and for that, she felt her sorrow and pity mingle with her pain. Yet there was no other way. "Kill me," she begged, her eyes never straying from his as another wave of pain battered at her small form. "Please, just-"

"No," Harry cut in, his eyes glittering dangerously in the bright light as he curtly shook his head. "No, I won't," Harry continued as both of his hands dug into her small shoulders, willing her to focus on this small bit of pain and to look past that which was consuming her body and soul. "You're going to have to do this the hard way. We'll do it together."

Sobbing, Buffy tried to blink her tears away as she clung to Harry and his words. There was so much there... so much power and it was pulling her every which way as it slipped through her numb fingers and tore at their world. Her death would end the pain and restore that which had been taken away - that which had been stolen from her control. But as she felt Harry's warm fingers dig into the flesh of her shoulders, Buffy knew that she had no other choice but to try. And as every last bit of wizarding magic had already been painfully stripped from his flesh, Harry gave her the only thing that he could: his love.

As the warmth spread through Buffy's limbs like a warm, soothing balm, the slayer felt Harry's love become tangible as it rooted her thoughts and began to piece her fractured mind and spirit back together, bit by tiny bit. Ignorant of the pain, Buffy reached out with invisible fingers and pulled back that which had flown free, tightened that which had come loose, sewn that which had been ripped, and fixed that which had become broken. And then, when everything that had been so wrong with the world was once more right, she felt that power flow back into her small body as something expanded within her in order to make room, tearing, pulling and straining to make it all fit as she stretched until... until there was nothing but the darkness of blessed release.

Sighing softly, Buffy drowsily tilted her head towards the warm sun that seemed to bask her face with warmth and pulled her from the sleep that seemed slow to leave her heavy limbs. Which was altogether fine with her, for as the slayer had come to learn over her long years as the Chosen One... or was it the Chosen Four now?... it was that when waking from a sleep that left you drowsy, confused, and all kinds of sleepy, it was usually best to stay in that wonderful limbo for as long as possible. For when waking from such a state, there was usually pain, even more confusion, and a healthy amount of wishing that she had just stayed unconscious. Then again, there didn't seem to be any pain, she realized as she stretched like a lazy cat beneath the scratchy sheets that draped across her slender form, and the large, familiar hand that gently squeezed one of her own didn't seem too distressing. So maybe waking up wasn't going to be so bad this time. Maybe, oddly enough, maybe this time she wasn't going to find herself laid up in...

"Not again," Buffy sighed as her eyes finally fluttered open and took in the familiar stone walls of the Hogwarts infirmary that she so hated. Groaning, Buffy tried to lift her hand to her face, only to have that same large hand squeeze her smaller one once more, pulling her attention to the raven-haired young man that was perched on the edge of her hospital bed beside her. "Harry?" she murmured, fighting against a throat that was unusually dry and scratchy as she took in his beautiful, beaming smile and his green eyes that were crinkled behind his black-rimmed glasses - and then pausing to admire her pink, freshly scrubbed skin that looked far cleaner than she could remember it looking in far too long... although why she had been feeling dirty was a mystery hidden within her scrambled thoughts and memories.

"Scouring charm," Harry stated with a gentle smile as he watched Buffy inspect her skin with a small smile. "You really were quite filthy when they brought you in," he added with a small smile as he reached for a glass of water on a nearby table and helped her to sip the cool liquid. "And don't let Madam Pomfrey hear you saying that. She hasn't been in the best of moods since we showed up on her doorstep two weeks ago with seven new patients."

Torn from her inspection, Buffy stared at Harry in confusion. "Huh?"

"Apparently I borrowed a little too much from the others," Harry quickly explained as he stood to gently pull Buffy forward as he added more pillows behind her lower back so that she was propped up in her bed. "Although," he added with a small smile, his eyes twinkling, "Dumbledore seemed pretty impressed that I was able to pull it off, what with using a wiccan technique with wizarding magic. Then again, he was only unconscious for a few hours. Snape, on the other hand, just woke up a few days ago and he didn't seem very impressed at all."

"I don't... what happened?" Buffy murmured, her expression blank as she tried to sort through the jumbled information and the vague impressions of a horrifying battle and blinding energy that her mind was supplying.

"Plan B," Harry returned quite succinctly as he smiled broadly at her - a fact that she was beginning to find quite annoying seeing as how he seemed oh-so-informed while she was all kinds of muddled.

"Plan B?"

"Yes - well, Plan A was to keep the gods from ever finding you, and you saw how well that worked," he explained as a small grimace pulled at his tanned features. "Plan B was to take back what the gods had taken from everyone else," Harry added as he settled once more on the edge of her bed. "It worked," he added, his grin growing so broad that it looked almost painful. "Ron, Miss Parker, Celeste, and even Angel are all back to normal, in addition to countless others all around the world... then again, I wasn't planning on having to jump to Plan C."

"Plan C?" Buffy returned weakly, even as she tried to remember why Ron, Miss Parker, Celeste and Angel wouldn't be normal in the first place.

"Well that was where you stopped trying to end the world," Harry replied, his expression growing troubled. "After all, I absolutely refused to use Plan D."

For a moment, Buffy could only stare at Harry in silence as everything came rushing back. Dahmascus and Serantine. Bertrone's betrayal and subsequent move to convince her to do what was 'right.' The contorted relay of information of everything that had happened to those that she loved. Her friends' attack upon the Hell Gods. Harry's assault upon them and the children that had taken the Gods' place... and her decision to lower the barriers in order to save the boy that sat beside her. Shaking her head, Buffy mutely turned back to Harry with wide eyes, noting his love and concern as he watched her closely. "Plan D?" she weakly parroted, finally remembering their little game.

"The one where I let General Gregor kill you to save the world," Harry explained as he gently took her hand once more into his own. "I heard why you did what you did," he added with a small frown.

"Oh," Buffy murmured, feeling far from eloquent at the moment. Actually, she was feeling pretty much how she felt after blowing up her high school after her high school graduation. Fire bad, tree pretty and all that.

"Buffy, what were you thinking?" Harry asked, his voice so soft and gentle as he slowly lifted her chin until she was staring into his beautiful green eyes.

Sighing, Buffy tried and failed to look away, all the while cursing her weak limbs. She hated feeling like this. She hated feeling so... mortal. Not that she wasn't mortal or anything on a daily basis, but her slayer powers sometimes made the rest of the stuff fall away. Made her feel... like her mind was wandering. Sighing once more, Buffy focused her gaze on the stricken expression that pulled at Harry's handsome, chiseled features and felt her lips lift in a small, wistful smile.

Each and every day that she woke to see Harry lying peacefully beside her was a day that she had cherished. Ten months. It had only been ten months since Harry had first come into her life.. or rather, since she had intruded upon his, but to a Slayer, ten months felt like the most glorious of lifetimes. Before Harry she had her friends, and before her friends she had had her mother - even a father at one point. And then over the course of time, everything had been stripped away. Her father. Her mother. Her friends when she had been taken away. Yet during that time and during those losses she had gained so much. She had found Giles. She had found Willow and Xander. And for a time, she had even found Angel. And while each and every one of them brought a sense of completion to her hurting and battle-weary soul, none of them (despite Xander's fervent wishes) could stay by her side no matter the time of day or night. No one save Harry, and in that final, blissful way, he truly did soothe her weary soul in a way that made the possibility of living without... impossible. "That I wouldn't want to live without you," she finally returned, her voice soft.

"What? And you thought that I did?" Harry asked, his eyes widening slightly as he quickly shook his head. "Buffy, I love you," he whispered as he slowly bent closer until his lips were lightly brushing against hers, his eyes never once leaving hers.

"And I-"

"Think I'm really going to be sick," Sirius cut in as he and Giles slipped around the white curtain and into Buffy's area, his blue eyes twinkling with undisguised mirth as Harry rolled his eyes at his godfather's antics before reluctantly pulling away and standing to greet them.

"I thought that we had heard voices," Giles added as he quickly dropped a kiss on Buffy's head before he settled onto the bed beside her, his arm slipping protectively around her small shoulders.

"Yes, Sleeping Beauty finally decided to grace us with her presence," Harry returned as he dodged a weak punch from the recovering slayer.

Scowling at her boyfriend, Buffy settled her tired body back against the plump pillows as she reveled in Giles' warmth. It felt like so long since she had been safe and warm - and even though she had only the 'pleasure' of the Hell Duo's hospitality for a mere two weeks, in a way, she supposed that such a feeling of safety and warmth had indeed been too long in coming. As in months. Sighing, Buffy wearily closed her eyes as she rest her head upon Giles' shoulder. At least she could scratch this year's apocalypse off the calendar. She was spent and she just hoped that everyone else... Everyone else. "Where is everyone?" Buffy asked, her eyes flying open as she looked from one face to the other, her earlier worries crashing back into her frame with resounding blasts that practically left her trembling. How could she have forgotten?

Frowning at the tense set to his slayer's shoulders, Giles' gently but firmly held her against him as one hand absently smoothed away a strand of gleaming blond hair - partly amazed at how freely and unrestrained he acted with his slayer after his rather prudish beginning with her years before. "Faith, Celeste, and Chao-Ahn are in Sunnydale, cleaning up the remainders of the mess from when the barriers were lowered," he explained, a small smile pulling his lips at the rather odd combination.

"Hold up - Faith's alright?" Buffy demanded, feeling the pressure around her heart loosen just a little. That was one unknown down, with only seven more to go.

"Well, she was in a coma for awhile," Giles admitted as he shifted slightly beside her, "but she woke up at the same time that you... that you..."

"Went all lightning rod with the energy," Sirius quickly supplied with a quirked grin. "Or rather, I believe that is how your friend, Xander, put it."

"Yes," Harry quickly agreed from his position next to his godfather, his smile turning mischievous. "She said that she received a rather impressive jolt when you activated the Key. She's been rather vocally blaming it on 'all of the time that' you 'spent in her head' last year."

Grinning wryly at the words that had most definitely been borrowed from the dark-haired slayer, Buffy quickly turned questioning eyes back to her watcher. "And who's Chow Main?"

"Chao-Ahn," Giles corrected with a small, patient smile, "from Shanghai. She's the fourth slayer," he added at Buffy's continued blank expression. "Rather charming girl.... doesn't speak a lick of English," he admitted with a small frown as he distinctly remembered the girl's rather inane comments in a language that none of them understood, "but we're working on that."

"And the others?" Buffy pressed, silently going back to her miniature list of missing comrades.

"Well, after numerous assurances that you would be well, Willow, Xander and Tara left to help Wesley and Gunn in Los Angeles," Giles stated as he began to tick their allies off of his fingers - only to halt as Buffy's small hand clasped around his wrist with a strength that surprised them both.

"Angel - and Cordelia," she hastily added as her heart began to hammer painfully against her breastbone. "What about Angel and Cordelia?"

For a moment, Giles stared at her uncomprehendingly until his eyes slowly widened with understanding. "Oh dear," he murmured as he instinctively went for the glasses that were perched on the end of his nose, once more halted by Buffy's persistent grasp. "I had rather forgotten that you haven't... that you haven't heard any of this," he explained haltingly as he looked to Harry and Sirius for help. Help that neither were really equipped to give for they hadn't really known Angel and Cordelia, two of the original Scooby members, for long. "You see," he began, his voice faltering once more, "Serantine took Angel's soul and Angelus... Angelus killed Cordelia," he stammered, wishing he could spare his slayer this pain that the rest of them had had over a month to adjust to. "He... he isn't taking Cordelia's death very well and has... gone away for awhile. Tibet, I believe," he added softly.

For a moment, Buffy could only stare at Giles in numbed horror as her body seemed to pulsate with each and every painful beat of her heart. Cordelia was dead, and Angel had killed her. Cordelia was dead. Cordy - the bitchy, stuck-up and obsessive girl that had made Buffy's first years at Sunnydale so very difficult... and the amazing young woman that the girl had evolved into. The one that had fought the stereotypes to fight alongside her friends in the final battle of their high school careers, and the one who later joined the fight against the darkness alongside Angel in Los Angeles. While admittedly never her favorite person, there was simply far too much history between them for Buffy not to feel the painful blow from her death.. and to know that Angelus had been the one to cause it, leaving Angel's soul to feel the burden...

She had been the one to nurse Angel back to health and sanity upon his return from Hell... and upon the realization of all of those who had been harmed by his unwilling hand, and she knew firsthand the Hell that he would now be going through. And it was so unfair. Angel was already suffering beneath the unbelievable burden of the brutality that Angelus had caused for over four hundred years - it was cruel to add to his burden in this way. It was cruel, wrong, and just more proof of the Hell that Dahmascus and Serantine had managed to unleash upon their world.

Vainly forcing her tears to be held at bay until a time when she could shed them in a place where she could properly mourn the fallen Scooby and her hurting friend, Buffy resolutely tilted her chin up and forced her level eyes to focus on her watcher. This wasn't done and Buffy knew this by the deep sadness and grief that seemed to haunt Giles' familiar green eyes. And as Buffy leveled her gaze upon him, Giles knew that she needed to hear the worst - to weather through the bad before she could relish and appreciate the good.

"Samuel is dead," he stated, knowing no way to soften the words that drove a spike of agony through his tattered heart. And while Cordelia and Angel were Buffy's burden to bear upon her young heart, the loss of Samuel Fellows, Head of the Watcher's Council and his childhood friend... this was undoubtedly his loss to bear until his dying day. "He was killed during Dahmascus and Serantine's assault upon the Council."

Closing her eyes briefly, Buffy quietly dipped her head before turning and wrapping both arms around her watcher as she pressed her cheek against the soft wool of Giles' sweater. "I'm sorry," she murmured as she squeezed the older man gently, smiling softly as she felt his cheek rest against the crown of her head, before slowly pulling away.

"Ron and Hermione said to tell you hello," Harry offered tentatively, awkwardly shifting beside Sirius and trying his best to not appear the intruder that he felt. "They would be here now, as well as the rest of the Weasleys, but Mrs. Weasley hasn't really let Ron out of her sight since he returned to himself, much to his chagrin," he added with a small smile as Buffy returned his smile with a weak one of her own.

"And Jarod and Miss Parker send their regards," Sirius added as he nodded his head at the small slayer. "They didn't really say why they weren't here or what they were doing," he added as he grinned wickedly, "but by the look in Jarod's eyes, I decided that I didn't really want to know."

"I thought that you said that they were going to be shagging like-" Harry began, only to have his words rudely cut off by his godfather's large, calloused hand as it was pressed firmly over his mouth.

"As I was saying, I decided it would be prudent not to ask," he repeated, his voice firm as he glared at his godson's wide, innocent green eyes. "And as for everyone else, namely Remus, Dumbledore, McGonagall, and that slimy git-"


"Snape," the Auror continued, pointedly ignoring Giles' warning glare, "they're all off teaching some course or another."

Shaking her head wryly, Buffy settled once more against Giles' lean frame. "What about Bertrone?" she asked, instantly noting the way that her watcher tensed beside her and sending him a cautious gaze.

"What about Bertrone?" Giles returned stiffly.

"Well where does he fit with everything? Is he in Sunnydale with Celeste?" Buffy pushed as she smothered a yawn, hating the way that her eyes were getting heavy already.

"No, he isn't," came his curt reply as Giles went to stand, his hands absently fluffing her pillows and straightening her covers. "He's in Azakaban."

"He's what?!" Buffy quickly broke in, her eyes growing wide as she sent her covers flying. "Why is he in Azkaban?" she demanded, her steely green eyes turning from one person to the next - and freezing as she found identical cold, flinty lines in each of the eyes she sought.

"How about betraying us and sending the Gods to our doorsteps?" Giles demanded as he straightened beneath her fiery gaze. "It's because of him that Samuel and Cordelia are dead!"

"Or how about his help in kidnapping you?" Harry added as he angrily crossed his arms across his chest.

"Or maybe it's the part where he shot Harry with one of those muggle weapons and left him for dead!" Sirius retorted as he scowled fiercely at the small blond.

And while Buffy had been well aware of each and every transgression that had been listed against the French Watcher, it was the last one that caused her arguments to die on her lips. "He-he shot you?" she stammered, wide green eyes turning accusingly towards her boyfriend who quickly turned his eyes away.

"Harry almost died because of him," Sirius added, his features twisted with remembered grief and rage. "And for everything that he did, that bastard should have gotten far more than a lifetime in Azkaban. He should have gotten the-"

"But he didn't mean for any of this to happen," Buffy murmured, interrupting Sirius' angry tirade as she wearily leaned back against her pillows, her small hands cradled in her lap before her. "Not really," she amended as she frowned at the three men that stood by her bedside. "At first he only helped them because they promised to give back what they had taken from Celeste. He did it for his Slayer," Buffy explained as she turned a cautious glance to her own watcher. "And when he realized everything that had happened, he... he came back to his senses. But by then it was too late. The damage had been done and he knew what we didn't: that sending them back to their world wouldn't end our world... it would just kill me. And no matter how much I hated it, he was right, because my life isn't more important than the lives of all of those who would have died if they weren't sent back. No one's life was worth that," she finished as she wearily turned away from those that she loved. After all, they hadn't been there. They hadn't seen the anguish in Bertrone's eyes and the suffering that he carried within his soul. They hadn't seen the acceptance and the guilt. They didn't know and... and they didn't want to know.

Everyone needed someone to blame when things went wrong with the world. It was a sad fact, but one that had been proven true, time and time again. Sometimes the blame was placed upon the appropriate shoulders, but other times, when those shoulders were not there to bear the burden, someone else had to step forward to take that place. Such acts could be documented throughout history and unfortunately, would continue to be seen in the years to come. And in the case of a fight against a pair of Hell Gods, with Dahmascus and Serantine gone, they needed someone to blame - and apparently Bertrone had been all too willing to take up that heavy mantle. And Buffy knew that there was nothing that could do about it, for the eyes of the law never looked too closely at motives. They looked at actions, and it was indisputable that Bertrone had done everything that he had been accused of, no matter the reasons behind his actions. No matter his regrets. No matter the regrets of any.

Smiling softly, Buffy slowly nuzzled against Harry's broad shoulder and accepted his long arm as it pulled her tighter against his side. Despite the lingering cold that permeated her thin frame and fought to steal away her happiness, the small slayer felt whole and content with the world. Their fight against Dahmascus and Serantine had been long and arduous, filled with both pain and heartache. Countless lives had been lost in the five centuries that the Hell Gods walked their Earth, and in the final months of their time, those lives had included many good witches and wizards and muggles that had died to keep her and their world safe. Many lives had been lost, and many lives had been changed - and yet many, many countless more had been saved by their sacrifices.


There was that word again. That dreaded word that caused her skin to crawl and the hair at the nape of her neck to stand on end.


She had been convinced that Fate would demand the ultimate sacrifice from their Chosen Warrior, and had it not been for a simple twist of Fate - a twist that had occurred centuries before and countless times since - it may have required that which she had been prepared to give: her life.

Since being called as the Chosen One, Buffy had railed against her Fate. She had raced against her destiny and she had prevailed - and she had continued to live to fight another day. And while she knew that someday Fate would finally come to collect that final sacrifice from her, she also knew that it would be a fate that she would never accept with open arms. For while some may have become beaten down through the years, burdened with so much loss and heartache that they had almost come to see this final sacrifice - this Death - as a Gift of some sort, to Buffy it would forever be what it was meant to be: something to be fought and hopefully, overcome.

If Death was one thing, it wasn't her gift. It was her bane.

It was her duty and one day it would become her ultimate sacrifice.

Most of all, it was her Fate - and one that would hopefully be a long time in coming.

"I'm ready."

Pulled from her thoughts, Buffy quickly stood as her warm green eyes swept over Celeste's pale, tear-streaked face. Without a word the smaller slayer left Harry's side and swept the taller girl into a fierce embrace, allowing the younger slayer to cry her tears onto her small shoulder as she gently rubbed soothing circles on the girl's back.

Silently, Harry stood back and allowed the two slayers their moment, his guarded expression wavering slightly as he turned resolutely away and stared through the barred window and to the rocky shoreline that was just visible through the island's thick mist. While it was his connections to the wizarding world, and more importantly, his fame as the Boy Who Lived and the one who had ultimately defeated Lord Voldemort, that had gotten them permission to pass the barriers into the barred hold, he still found himself unable to do so for any other reason than his love for Buffy. While it was true that Bertrone's actions that fateful day - when he had turned a gun upon Harry and had left him to die - may have saved him from the wrath of the Hell Gods, the fact still remained that Bertrone had looked him in the eyes as he pulled the trigger of his muggle weapon. And while no one truly did know who had summoned the muggle police and medics and alerted them to his and Ron's location... the fact still remained that Harry was only too human. Some things just couldn't be forgiven. And as Harry turned his attention back to the sobbing girl and the young woman that held her, his green eyes locking with her own emerald green, Harry knew that his forgiveness didn't matter. All that mattered was the unspoken love that shined in Buffy's eyes as Celeste slowly straightened.

"Thank you for bringing me to see him," the taller girl whispered as she slowly drew away and smiled first at the small slayer, and then at the young wizard that slowly rejoined their small group. "I know, of course, of all that he has done to everyone... to me," she added, thick tears coursing down her cheeks. "But I also know that I love him, and that he loves me as well. He... he did this all for me," she murmured, "and while he was wrong.. I don't know that I would not have done the same," she admitted before turning and gazing once more to the hallway that led to her beloved watcher. And with a soft sigh, she slowly turned away and slipped silently from the room.

Sighing, Buffy watched the younger girl for a moment before turning and slipping her hand into Harry's. "Thank you," she whispered as she squeezed his hand gently, her own smile tinged with sadness. "I know that this can't of been easy for-"

"You're welcome," Harry interrupted as he pressed the fingers of his free hand against her lips. "You're welcome," he repeated before bending low to press a warm kiss against her parted lips. And as his breath sighed into her body, Buffy knew that no more words were needed. For while the going had been rough, and even though the ending was more bittersweet than happily ever after, she did know that the boy that held her as though he were holding something so very precious had loved her through it all. He had been by her side through every rocky step, and he had saved her, and them all, in the end. He had loved her and he had believed in her, and in the end, that was all that she had ever needed.

Well... that and Fate could take a high dive off of the first rocky cliff it came to. From this point on, she was writing her own Destiny.

The End

Author's Notes Continued: *grins* Big happy everyone, for this trilogy is officially completed! Yay!!!! Seriously though, this is the point where I once more get down on my hands and knees and praise each and every one of you who took the time to send me a review every now and again (or after every chapter ;p) and encourage me to keep going. It's because of you guys and your encouragement alone that this story saw its completion as you saw me through all sorts of tricky situations to give you what I hope you'll see as a fitting ending. This is also the usual point where I beg, plead, and ask very nicely for everyone to take a moment to send a review now, even if you always send one or never have before, and let me know what you thought of the story as a whole. Did you like it? Love it? Despise it?? What did you like?? Which of the trilogy did you like best and why?? Trust me when I say that your comments help to direct what I'll write in the future and what kind of a tone I'll take with my writing.. plus, it's the final huge reward for a writer - and one that I'd appreciate after all of the time and work this project took! So please, review away!

Finally, I also wanted to take this chance to plug my next project, "Equinoxium." It's going to be completely unrelated to the Twist of Fate Trilogy, a BtVS/LoTR crossover that will not feature Buffy joining the Fellowship nor dropping in on the Council of Elrond. Already it's looking to be yet another epic, but one that I'm hoping you'll enjoy... and did I mention that this is a season 7 BtVS fic?? *grins* So please keep an eye out for it (I hope to begin posting within the next couple of weeks) and let me know what you think!! ;p

Lastly... THANK YOU ALL!!!