Twist of Fate: Chapter 34
by Lisette

Legalese: See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.

Groaning, Buffy slowly swam up from the ocean of inky darkness that threatened to consume her. Within seconds, she felt something warm and soft encase her small hand, a slight pressure anchoring her as her eyes slowly fluttered open, the room's bright light searing her vision.

"Buffy?" Giles' voice called to her, pulling her from the depths of darkness as her eyes finally focused on his face, creased with so much hope and worry.

"Giles?" Buffy returned, her mouth feeling as though it was filled with cotton while her head ached like none other. At her words, she watched as Giles' smile brightened, tears brightening his green eyes as he lifted her hand and kissed it fiercely.

"Hey, your brain didn't go mush!" Xander noted from beside the Watcher, a matching grin pulling at his lips.

Smiling wearily, Buffy tried to nod her head, wincing at the pain, and instead settled for smiling softly. "No, I guess it didn't," she murmured, her eyes drifting shut for a moment before everything else came crashing back. "Is Faith okay?" she asked, her eyes shooting open and glancing around the room.

"Faith's fine," Giles assured, gently patting the hand that he still held. "She woke up a few minutes after the spell was completed. Willow and Oz are with her in the waiting room."

Smiling softly at his words, Buffy was about to nod again when she thought better of it, her eyes wearily fluttering before shooting open once again, her head turning quickly, despite the pain, and taking in what she had caught a glimpse of earlier: Miss Parker laid up in the hospital bed beside her, arm wrapped in a sling with Jarod, Sydney, and Broots at her side. "What happened?" she demanded, her tiredness forgotten under a wave of fear.

Grimacing slightly, Giles hesitated for a moment before slowly clearing his throat. "We, uh... we had a - a complication," he stuttered, watching as his Slayer's bright green eyes narrowed.

"So what happened?" she asked again, her tone turning dangerous. "Where's your friend and the witchy guy that did the mojo?"

"Mr. Fletcher is... Mr. Fletcher is dead," Giles explained haltingly, watching as Buffy paled even more, if it was possible, her eyes growing wide as comprehension filtered across her features.

"The Centre," she murmured, already knowing the gist of what happened without needing to be told. As tears blurred her vision, she weakly closed her eyes, willing them not to fall. She hated the tears for they displayed her weakness to the world, and that was one thing a Slayer was never supposed to be - what she was never supposed to be. Sniffling, she felt Giles squeeze her hand as she opened her watery eyes and met the concerned ones of her Watcher. "Giles, I'm like Jarod now," she murmured, hating the way her voice cracked over her words. "I'll never be free of them-"

"Raines can't hurt you any longer," Miss Parker interrupted from the bed beside them, having overheard their muffled exchange. With a cold look, she let her eyes carry the meaning of her words. "Not anymore."

"It doesn't matter," Buffy returned, her expression bleak. "With Lyle and Raines gone, someone else will step up and come again. They'll never give up - they never gave up on hunting Jarod and now they'll never give up on hunting me," she whispered, feeling the truth behind her words with everything in her being.

"On the contrary," a new voice added as Samuel stepped into the room, his suit jacket draped over one arm and his eyes sad and tired, "neither of you have to worry about the Centre anymore." At the identical looks of disbelief from both Buffy and Jarod, Samuel quietly closed the door behind him and moved further into the room. "I've been on the phone with the Council for some time now, and let's just say that we've made the Triumvirate an offer that they couldn't refuse," he said with a grim smile. "The Centre is now owned by the Watcher's Council."

Snorting softly, Xander quickly shook his head. "Oh yeah, 'cause that's any more reassuring!"

"Under the Centre's new leadership, it should be," he countered, piquing the interest of the ex-Centre personnel, just as he knew it would.

"Who?" Miss Parker asked, hating herself for her interest but unable to stop the question.

Turning, Samuel Fellows allowed his eyes to take in the woman who was laid up in the bed beside the Council's slayer. Her sharp features were pale and dark circles lined her eyes, shoulder and right arm secured against her body by a white sling, hair mussed around her face. Yet despite everything, she was still beautiful - still a force to be reckoned with... and a good ally, as she proved when she had hurried after Buffy Summers and killed to keep them all safe. Was wounded to save the Council's slayer. "I've been told," he began, his eyes locking with hers, "that the Centre has always been run by a Parker."

"My grandfather founded the Centre," Miss Parker confirmed, suspicion tightening her features, her gaze skipping over to take in the friends that surrounded her.

"Well, as the last of the Parker line, will you accept our offer to return to the Centre as Director?" he asked, enjoying the way that his words left her face slack in surprise.

"You've.. you've got to be kidding me," she murmured, her thoughts a whirlwind. Her mother and Tommy had wanted nothing more than to free her of the chains of the Centre, and she had finally done that. But now.. now she was being offered the chance to not only return to the Centre, the one place that had truly been her home since she was a small child, but to return as the Head Director - the one who made all of the decisions. It was the position that her father had groomed her for, and now that it was being offered, she found herself filled with doubts. How could she return to a place of such evil? A place that had caused so much pain and suffering? Especially to those right there in the room with her? "I could-"

"Wait, Parker," Jarod interrupted, his eyes shining as he quickly bent down and locked eyes with her. "Think about this," he urged, a slow smile building. "You said yourself that not everything that comes out of the Centre is bad, and that there are plenty of good people that work there," he continued, nodding at both Sydney and Broots who watched with undisguised interest. "With you in charge you could turn the place around! Close down the sublevels and shut down all of the unethical projects - support the ones that could be used for good purposes!"

Floored, Miss Parker listened to Jarod's words and couldn't help but feel a spark of excitement, a spark of hope at the possibilities that were now open to them all. Jarod was right that they finally had the chance to turn the Centre into the place that her mother had believed in - a different place than the one that was created by her grandfather, continued with her father, and ended with her brother. But with thoughts of her family, all the old doubts came crashing back with the force of a tidal wave. How could she guarantee that in the end she wouldn't end up just as twisted as anyone else in her family? Yeah, so she was the mirror image of her mother - she had already proven more times than she could count that such a resemblance didn't guarantee the same decisions would be made - the same compassion shared. She was trying, damnit, but she had a lot to atone for - and too much of her father still ran through her blood. How could she ensure that the Centre would be any different under her hand, no matter how noble her intentions began? "I... I can't do this," she finally murmured, wide eyes lifting to meet those of Sydney, Broots, and Jarod. "I can't do this alone."

Smiling softly, Jarod reached down and took her free hand in his own. "You don't have to," he murmured, watching as a wave of new emotions swept across her features. "Maybe it's time for me to go home after all," he added, feeling Sydney start behind him at his words. "After all, with the others gone and you in charge, the Centre has the real potential to become the place that I grew up believing in."

"And with you guys running the place," Buffy supplied from the bed beside hers, a weary smile lifting her lips, "maybe I won't have to go in commando style with my trusty rocket launcher after all."

Laughing softly at her words, not quite sure if she meant them or not, Samuel turned back to the group by the second bed, his eyes taking in the way that they banded together more as family than mere coworkers or even friends. This group would do amazing things with the Council's newest investment. Great, great things. "So do you accept?" he asked, watching as the woman's features smoothed into a serene smile - an expression that seemed to fit her face somehow, even though he was sure it wasn't customary for her.

"I accept," she murmured simply, feeling Jarod's hand tighten around her. "We accept," she amended, risking a glance to the people that surrounded her.

"Then it's settled," Samuel said, his tone brisk. "And with that I think we should all clear out and allow these young women some well deserved rest," he said, eyes skipping over to lock on his exhausted Slayer. "But before I go," he murmured, slowly stepping towards the bed, one hand withdrawing a small bottle from beneath his coat and setting it on the table by her head. "Drink this later," he instructed, his kind eyes tracing the bandages that marred the girl's pretty face. "It should help in the healing and will speed up the re-growth of your hair."

"Did you have to remind me?" Buffy murmured sleepily, one hand slowly lifting to finger the bandages that covered her hairless head. "I was trying to forget my baldness," she muttered as her eyes drifted to the bottle before turning to her Watcher, a question in her eyes.

Seeing the question there, Giles slowly nodded his head. "It's alright, Buffy, I promise that it will only help," he assured, squeezing her hand before slowly moving with the others towards the door - only to pause as her weak voice called him back.

"Giles... could you... could you just stay until I'm asleep?" she asked, sounding so young and small - so unlike the Buffy Summers he had come to know, train, and love over the past four years. And by the way her eyes dipped down to rest on the pale sheets that covered her, Giles knew how much her words had cost her.

Smiling gently, he quickly waved the others on and returned to his Slayer's side, pulling up a chair and settling into its confines. As a soft sigh left her lips, he watched as her eyes began to flutter slightly - dark lashes against pale skin. For a moment he allowed his gaze to trace over his slayer's small features, lines eased as sleep claimed her once again.

A lot had happened to his precious slayer in the past few months, in the past year, and he knew that it would take far longer for those scars to heal than for her hair to re-grow or for the scars of her surgery to fade. Her internal scars may never disappear, and perhaps the Centre would always haunt her steps. But in a future that was so uncertain, there was one thing that he could be assured of. She wasn't alone. Buffy would never be alone again, would never have to face such obstacles and trials alone. He was never going to give up on his Slayer, no matter what twist fate threw at them. Somehow, they would make it through, just as they always did, time and time again. Just as they would always continue to do so.

Now take my hand and hold it tight. I will not fail you here tonight.
For failing you, I fail myself and place my soul upon a shelf in
Hells library without light. I will not fail you here tonight.

-The Book of Counted Sorrows-

The End