Disclaimer: I do not own Michelle Branch, I would never own Michelle Branch, and I hope anyone that ever claims they do drops down and dies! I love the song, and as I was listening to both her CDs I realized that they were perfect for Fanfiction. The song EMPTY HANDED is written my MB, and all the rights and stuff belong to people who's names I don't know but are NOT me. Thank you.

= = = (*Leaving The Deep-End*) = = =

Optional Epilogue for "These Secrets Kept"

As the window rolls down, and I see her take that first deep breath, I wonder; is this what happiness feels like? I thought I had felt it before, and I thought I would feel it again, but this just blows it all away. Nothing has even felt this freeing and peaceful in my life. The way she smiles, the way her hair flies behind her, the sheer warmth of spirit that emanates from this woman beside me is awing. I've admired her grace, she power, her skill, but not this. Never this. Though only because I have never seen her this way before. Free.

She turns to look at me, and her grin is almost laughing. Glancing at the road, she takes in the lights of the highway and the speed of the cars. We're *way*over the speed limit, but even as a cop she doesn't care. She lets her head rest on the back of the seat, and I chuckle. Only she is small enough to do that. Even little Fred has to crouch to sit like that. She's looking at me, smiling now, and her eyes sparkle with some formless question.

"What's so funny?" I shake my head, and look back at the road.

"I've missed you." I say, and for possibly the first time, it's not a struggle to get it out. Before, when I would say it, it was something I felt ashamed of, and my pride was once all I had. It's not to be taken lightly. But now, after what she did . . . it's the easiest thing in the world. She nods her little blonde head, and closes her eyes.

"Not half as much as I missed you." She said quietly. My eyes widen slightly, and I glance into the back seat. That was a bold move for B. Then I see that Dawn's got her MusicMuffs on, and I understand. I run a hand over her hair, and she sighs, leaning into the touch. I can't help my lips widening their grin as I feel this. It's been so long since she just let her self feel, and more than that, feel *happy* . . . that's all I ever wanted for her.

We ride a long for a bit in silence, as it's nice. The breeze from the window mixed with the purring of the Angel-Mobile is lulling B to sleep. She's never looked so cute in her whole life I don't think. She's got a tired smile on her face, and small tendrils of gold are swaying behind her where they've escaped her hair-tie. I put an arm out the window, and wave my changing lanes to the guy next to me. He slows, and I move, and I wave again as a thank you. B's breathing is getting slow now, and I can tell that she's almost asleep. I better ask before she drifts off . . .

"Hey B?" I ask quickly, trying my best to sound off-hand. Her head rolls on the seat to face me, and her eyes open. I clear my throat, and try and think of how best to say this. She lifts here head, and I cringe internally. She knows this is not a light ended question.

"Faith?" Oh. Right. Have to keep talking. Have to ask the question. I glance at her again, and then try to switch lanes to excuse my not looking at her.

"Uh, did you, um . . ." I say, as I try to work the sounds out of my tight throat. "Did you mean, you know, what you said back there?" she looks confused, and that worries me.

"Which thing?" she asks slowly. As she says this I can't help but think; Does it matter?! Was any of it real? Was any of it fake? Why does she have to know which one I was talking about? As I'm having this internal panic, she's placed a hand on my surprisingly tense shoulder, and I see her forehead is creased in worry.

"Fai, are you alright?" She asks in that caring way that makes my feel bad for having her worry, yet I feel bad already or else she wouldn't have asked. I take a deep breath and tell all my thoughts to stop chasing each other around until I get an answer to my question. I turn to look at her fully, which is dangerous on a Southern Californian High-Way, and hold her eyes.

"Did you mean it?" I ask. And she nods. She nods quickly, and reassuringly, but I need to *know*, for sure, if what she said was true. "Did you mean what you said, B? About us, about you and me?" she's glancing at the highway, and I know it's because she's scared. But what is she scared of? Lying to me, or that we might crash.

"Yes, Faith, I meant it. Now *PLEASE*, get your eyes back on the road." But I don't. I keep looking at her, but she's still looking at the road.

"Tell me B! Tell me you meant it." She's looking panicked, and I can hear the honking from the other cars.

"Faith, please, think of Dawn!" she yells and she cringes, watching a car swerves to avoid us. Think of Dawn? THINK OF DAWN?! She's worried about her sister while I'm trying to figure out what I've gotten myself into? She takes a deep breath, and puts her hand over the one I had on the wheel.

"Faith, please," she says calmly, opening her eyes to look at me, "I meant it, all of it. Now, *please*, drive with your safety in mind?" she sounds worried, and I finally look out the windshield. I pull the wheel sharply, and narrowly avoid hitting the pillar-divider we were slowly veering towards. I take in a shuddering breath, and glance back at B, who's got a small smile on her face.

"What?" I ask quickly. She just chuckles for a second, then glances at me.

"I wasn't all that worried." She says, almost casual. My eye-brow raises slightly, and she notices it. "I've drowned, fallen through a mystic portal, been shot, and run-through. Non of that stopped me. Besides," she glances at me, and I realize her hand is still in mine, "You may drive like a crazy woman, but you're not one anymore." We both laugh at that, and I can't help but give her soft little fingers a squeeze. Only B would fall for a Crazy woman.

"Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, mock the psychotically challenged." She smiles, and runs her thumb over the back of my hand. Now that things have calmed down a bit, I think I had better explain my question a bit more.

"So, B . . . Did you mean it? What you said, about us?" she smiles and nods. "All of it?" I had to ask. She laughs and nods again.

"Yes, Fai. All of it." She kisses my hand, and then takes a deep breath as she lays her head back down. Oh, no little lady, I'm not finished yet!

"What I meant was, you know, the part about us. And . . . being together. Like, you know, together." She opens her eyes, and looks at me. She's confused; her eyebrows are doing that cute scrunchie thing that makes me want to kiss her forehead. I clear my throat, and concentrate on tailgating the guy in front of me.

"For example, in Cleveland . . . are we gonna share a room?" she blushes, and I'm worried again. She sits up straight, and tries to sweep some of the tendrils out of her eyes.

"Uh, I don't know . . . I haven't really thought about it yet." I nod, and ask my next question.

"I was just asking, 'cause you said something . . . back at the house. You said that, uh, that we . . . could umm." I don't think I've ever asked a question this loaded before. I honestly don't think I have. My hands are shaking on the steering wheel, and I know she can feel it in the one she's holding. I take a deep breath, and force the words out of my mouth as fast as I can.

"I just wanted to know so I could tell Angel." I say quickly. It came out kind of hard, but that was just because it had to be forceful. For me, not for her. I feel her hand quickly leave mine and I look at her. She has a 'Lost in the head-lights' look to her, mixture of shock and fear. "What?"

"Angel knows?" she asks quickly, voice slightly high. Excuse my channelling of Cordy here but; Duh.

"Yeah, B, or course he knows. He was the only one I told. He wasn't stupid, Buff. He knows I wouldn't have left The Academy if I didn't have a good reason. Also, I asked for the job down there the day you flew out of Cleveland . . . he knew already." She looks like a blonde tomato. I didn't know someone with such fair skin could get so red. Maybe it's a Slayer thing . . .

"Did he, um . . . take it well?" she asks delicately. I just nod, and she's taking a few breaths. Suddenly, she gasps, and looks at me. "OH MY GOD!" she yells slightly, "He's known for *that* long?! Why didn't you tell me?!" she puts her head in her hand, and grumbles into her hand. "He came to see me about 4 months ago to give me an Evil-Update . . . He *KNEW*?!" she yells the last part really loud, and dawn looks up for a second, then returns to her book.

"Well, Yeah B. Besides, he'd kind of figure it out if I moved in with you?" I say, and again with the shocked-deer-lights-look.

"Move in?" she asks slowly, face slightly slack. "Wha - when - what?" she asks quickly. I look from her to the road, and back again.

"Moving in together. Remember, we were just talking about it . . . were you not paying attention?" I ask slowly.

"What? When? Maybe - What?!" I have never seen he looks so confused, and I'm starting to think this girl has ADD. We were just talking about this.

"Living together. We were just talking about it, B. Remember, 'cause I wanted to tell Angel. I have to give him my two-weeks-notice is I'm going down to Pasadena with you , or if you'd want to move back up to Cleveland." She's got the confused look for another second, then it seems to hit her.

"OH!" she says quickly, "Oh I thought you meant, you know *'together'* together. Not like, living - in the same - with the - WHAT?!" she asks quickly, shock marring her face again. ADD, I swear, she doesn't even pay attention to what *She's* saying! I sigh and laugh a little.

"B, please. With you and me, that's bound to happen anyways. You said so yourself! 'Every time!', remember? I was talking about living conditions. What do you say? Where do you want to go, B?" I'm dead serious, I'll go where she goes, but right now she looks lost. She blushes, and looks out the window for a few minutes before looking back at me

"Living together?" she asks slowly. I nod. I'm in this, all the way. No jokes, no half-ass-job kind of deal. Not this time, and not *ever* with B. she looks blown away, and I'm confused.

"Faith . . ." she says slowly, "I've never lived with anyone before . . ." I wave it off, 'cause that doesn't matter. That was then, this is her and me. COMPLETELY different! "Faith, I don't know, isn't this kind of . . . I don't know . . . . . SOON?" she asks, worriedly. I shake my head and laugh.

"B, it's me. We've known each-other for, what, almost 5 years now? I'm ready. Besides . . ." I lean in and whisper in her ear, "It'd be nice not having to drive the 45 minutes to sleep next to you every night . . ." she blushes, and averts here eyes. Always the shy one. I just chuckle, and turn back to the road. "On come on, you know it'd be happening anyway!" She blushes and covers her face, but nods just the same.

We've just turned down an off-ramp, and entered a new stretch of highway. Being the fast driver that I am, I want the left-lane . . . with a bonus. Slamming the gas and whipping a hard left has B sliding in next to me in no time. There's a squeal from both the Summers girls, and I just laugh. Gotta love those old-school bench seats! Thank-you Angel.

We drive along for a bit, silence covering our thoughts, and I can't help but think that this is far better than anything I had hoped for. B by my side, heading back to the place were we first fell in love (sorta), and nothing ahead of us but a long stretch on highway. There's a 'click-click- click' from the back seat, and a glance in the rear-mirror shows that it's Dawn tapping her head-phones. After shaking her CD player for a minute, she huffs slightly as she takes the head-gear off.

"My batteries are dead!" she complains as she starts to lay down. "Next time we stop I'll have to get more . . ." Buffy nods absently, and I just smile. "Turn on the radio?" she asks through a yawn. B reaches for the knob, and a now familiar guitar fallowed by a voice drifts through the car.

"Here I am take me

It's easier to give in

Some people mistake me

They only hear what they want to hear

If you're losing sleep

Forgive me

I just can't keep pretending"

"I'm packing my bags 'cause I don't wanna be

The only one who's drowning in their misery

And I'll take that chance 'cause I just wanna breathe

And I won't look back and wonder how it's supposed to be

How it's supposed to be"

B takes my hand and kisses it, placing them both neatly in her lap. Sighing, she lays her head on my shoulder, and lets the cool air from the high-way fill her lungs. Our lives are anything but perfect, but that's how they feel right now. Infoulable.

"There's a prism by the window

It lets the light leak in

I wish you would let me

You feel the water but do you swim?

and it's only me empty-handed

with a childish grin and a camera"

"I'm packing my bags 'cause I don't wanna be

The only one who's drowning in their misery

And I'll take that chance 'cause I just wanna breathe

And I won't look back and wonder how it's supposed to be

How it's supposed to be"

"la da da da" we both sing a long to that little part, and then laugh at how bad at singing we both are. But I have to wonder if she's really trying, because Willow said she was pretty good when she was Spelled into singing a few years ago. I wish I had seen that, but more than that, I wish I had been there.

"I'm packing my bags 'cause I don't wanna be

The only one who's drowning in their misery

And I'll take that chance 'cause I just wanna breathe

And I won't look back and wonder how it's supposed to be

How it's supposed to be"

" 'Cause I'm packing my bags

And I won't be back . . . "

B glances into the back seat for a second as the song ends, and sees that Dawn has already fallen asleep. As the next song starts, she smiles, and nuzzles into my neck slightly. She was always affectionate with people, and I've missed it. Last year she and I were called The Gruesome Twosome by the Scoobies. I want that again. I missed what we had that summer. It was both the best and most painful one of my life; and one I'll never forget. As B starts drifting off herself I can't help but remember how this trouble all started . . . . . . .