A/N: Well, this be it, ladies and gents! This is all she wrote. She, being me! I had a blast writing this, and a great time reading your reactions and reviews. I know I lost a few readers with the direction I took it, so for those of you who stuck around I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for keeping with it and for keeping me inspired to finish it.
Not much else to say except until next time my bébés...
Epilogue: Let Flow in the Water
Two Months Later…
The zipper strained to keep the suitcase closed, even with Frank's weight pushing down on it. Callie pulled at the slider, and he chuckled as he finally had to lift himself off the floor to kneel on the case. "Just what have you packed in here, Cal?"
Laughing with him, she finally succeeded in closing it. "Clothes." He snapped a small padlock through the slider, locking the suitcase closed. "A few books, some CDs, a couple of photo albums, all the things I'll need for dorm life at Cornell."
He glanced at the four other large suitcases and nearly a dozen boxes waiting near the door to the girl's bedroom. Frank sat on the edge of the bed next to the suitcase. "Are you sure you need all of this stuff?"
"It looks more than it is," she explained. She slumped onto the mattress as well, leaving the case between them. "Besides, not everyone gets to go to another country and buy all new stuff for their flat on campus."
Leaning back on his elbows, Frank shook his head. "It's going to be a very empty flat. Rent alone is £600 per month, plus bills and taxes."
The girl turned her head to look at him. "Which is how much U.S. dollars?"
"All together, anywhere between twelve and fifteen hundred dollars."
"Yea. Mom and Dad say they're cool with it, but that's a lot of money." He sighed, eyes downcast as he stared at a piece of lint on the knees of his jeans. "Except, I don't know if I could do this if I had to share a place. Especially with guys I didn't know."
Concern crinkling her forehead, Callie laid on her side with her elbow bent and her hand propping her head up. "Give yourself a little credit, Frank. Look at everything you've accomplished. You caught up with your classes and aced every last exam. All the while planning a sting with your father and the government to get that psychopath behind bars-"
"Where he was promptly murdered by the people he worked for."
"You didn't do it."
"Wish I had."
That stunned her a little, but she shook her head. "No you don't."
He chuckled grimly. "No, I really don't. Why is that again?"
She smiled softly. "Because you're an incredible guy and an amazing human being."
Crimson rushed to his cheeks and he finally looked away from the fascinating lint. Turning his head to the side he regarded the girl beside him.
Through everything, Callie Shaw had been as much a source of strength for him as Joe was. After he'd woken up she still came every day to see him. Even at his lowest she was there, no expectations, no preset ideas of how he should be acting or feeling. She had just been a friend and he found himself confiding in her things he hadn't ever intending on discussing with anyone other than his shrink.
She had been the one who convinced him to talk to Joe; to share with him his nightmares and waking fears. Joe hadn't pushed the issue, but Frank was aware that his silence with his brother was hard for the other boy to accept.
Together, it was the pair of them that finally got Frank reconsidering Oxford and then making the decision to go.
He blinked, bringing himself back to the moment, grateful that Callie was comfortable to let his mind wander without pressing him. With a sigh, Frank reached out tentatively and brushed a strand of her hair from her forehead. "What time do you leave in the morning?"
A warm, soft smile tugged the corners of her lips at his touch. "We'll be loading the car tonight and we're on the road by seven at the latest."
He nodded, bringing his arm back to his side. "You're still okay with Joe and me coming up for the Labour Day weekend?"
"You better!" She scowled playfully. "I won't be able to make it back when you fly out in October. That, by the way, is a really weird time to start the school year."
Frank chuckled again. "Yea, Joe had a hard time wrapping his head around that as well. I just had to remind him that fitting an entire semester course load into eight weeks is going to be hell. Do that three times during their academic year, add in a full summer semester at the University of London…"
"You'll do fine," Callie assured him with a confident smile. "You always do. Do I need to remind you everything you've done again?"
He just smiled and shook his head. "Nah. I'm good. I'm actually looking forward to the challenge."
She crooked an eyebrow in question. "Just the challenge?"
"Going somewhere where the whole Yakuza thing wasn't broadcast across the country is just the icing on the cake."
A comfortable silence fell around the two as they just stared at each other. Once again, Frank felt an overwhelming appreciation for Callie. And he felt it time to have a conversation they'd been putting off for far too long.
"Cal," he began cautiously. "What is this?"
"This. Us." He sat up again and she followed suit.
"We're friends." Her head tilted to the side as her eyes narrowed slightly in confusion. "At least I hope we're friends."
"I'm sitting in your bedroom at-" he glanced around her at the clock on her nightstand, "- nearly eleven at night helping you pack for University. I'm planning on coming to see you in two weeks, we're making plans for Christmas, you're flying to England for Spring break and then again with Joe for six weeks in the summer. That sounds suspiciously like more than just friends."
Her sigh was sad but her eyes were still bright and warm. "Frank, you are my best friend. You always have been and hopefully you always will be."
Beneath his chest, his heart skipped a beat. "But…?"
She blushed, looking away from the intensity of his gaze. "I still love you, Frank. I never stopped."
He suspected as much, but to actually hear it was somewhat overwhelming. "Cal-"
"I know it can't happen, Frank!" she exclaimed in a rush, not hearing him when he had tried to speak. "After all we've talked about, everything that's happened, I can't possibly expect you to just be all 'I love you too, let's get back together'. I'd never do that to you. But I can't say it hasn't crossed my mind-"
With a gentle touch, his hand covered her mouth. "Callie, you're rambling."
"Sorry," she mumbled, embarrassed, against his palm.
Moving his hand to rest against her cheek, Frank laughed softly. "I still love you too, Callie."
It was her turn to swallow. "But…?"
He met her warm, honey brown eyes and affectionately stroked her face with his thumb. "I'm about to put the pond between us, it doesn't make much sense for us to try does it?"
Her head shook lightly.
"Besides," Frank admitted as he brought his hand back to his lap. "I don't think I'm ready just yet."
Callie nodded in understanding.
"So you're going to go off to University in Ithaca, no strings, no promises. You're going to go out with your dorm mates, you're going to join a sorority, meet interesting people, and have fun. And if you happen to meet a guy who makes you happy-"
"I already have, Frank." A mist of tears glistened at the rims of her eyes. "I made the mistake of letting you go once, I'm not about to do it again now that I know there's a chance for us. I'm going to be waiting here for you every time you come home. Just don't go meeting some British tart, you got me?"
Snickering, the boy nodded. "I don't think there could be anyone else for me but you, Cal."
"Good." She sniffled, blinking back the unshed tears before they had the chance to fall. "So we're friends."
"More than friends," he amended.
"But not quite boyfriend, girlfriend."
"That sounds… confusing." He shook his head. "I don't think it's going to work."
Callie looked crestfallen for a second before he was reaching across the suitcase between them and taking her hand in his. "We can take it slow – I mean, with an entire ocean between us it's not like we can just jump right into things again. I want you to be my girlfriend, Callie."
Frank pulled at her hand gently, urging her to lean toward him as he inclined toward her. "Because I would really, really like to kiss you right now."
The feel of their lips was light, feathery. Unsure of how he would react to such an intimate touch, neither had proceeded with much vigour. After a heartbeat, realizing he wasn't going to break, the embrace intensified.
And as they kissed, Frank knew.
He would carry it, everything that began with that stormy spring night, for the rest of his life. He would remember and he would have to deal. Some days would be easier than others. Some days would be impossible.
But he wasn't going to be a victim.
He was, after all, a Hardy.