(Author's Note: Well people, here it is. The very last segment. The epilogue. The segway into the inevitable sequel, which may be a fair ways into the future because there were many story ideas that I've toyed with over the years but said – No! Not until I finish Hope's Drowning!... It's hard to believe this is finally done. I remember the day I wrote the first chapter, I was so excited by the concept of writing a story that someone I didn't know might read, I dove back in front of my keyboard and up-dated again with the next chapter the very same day. Of course, that afternoon I got my first review – from some meanie saying she didn't read stories with things misspelled in the "Summery" line and I must be a complete idiot. I cried. Ever since then I've taken my time between updates – so if you hate how long it takes me to post new chapters, blame the jerk. Anyways, I hope you guys enjoy this last little taste of the world I tried to recreate with a Fuffy twist.)
Saturday, May 26, 2007

Hope's Drowning Epilogue
"When I Find My Hope's Drowning (I Turn to You & It's Saved)…"

"So… You're happy?" Buffy turned to look at her father, sitting in the diver's seat. They'd just pulled up to the curb in front of the Summers' residence. Buffy smiled down at her hands folded in her lap as she nodded slowly.

"Yeah, Dad. I am." She looked up at him. He looked disappointed, but not in his daughter. His grin was genuine but sad. This was a man who, in a matter of very short hours, had learned just how much he missed his daughter, how old she'd gotten thinking that she'd stay his little girl even when he wasn't looking. But maybe he'd just thought that because he'd never bothered to look that deep until the night before. His daughter was an adult now, he could feel it rolling off of her in waves, and she was very much in love. She had a calmness, security about her that came with the knowledge that there was something – a person – in her life she could count on more than the timing of the sun.

"She's… Good to you?" he asked for what had to be the hundredth time since he'd picked her up earlier that morning. Buffy rolled her eyes and chuckled, just as Hank knew she would – as though the question were ridiculous – as if to say if you knew her, you wouldn't ask.

"Yes, dad, she is."

"Okay." He said, sighing. "Okay." More quietly this time. The sound of Buffy unbuckling her seatbelt sounded very loud in the near silence of the car. "I'll see you and your mother soon. I promise." He said, and though Buffy had believed him the many times he said it before only to be disappointed, she still believed him again. But this time, he genuinely seemed changed.

"Bye Daddy." She muttered, hugging him close. He lingered, needing to remind himself that her small frame no longer denoted a small age. His girl may still be little, but she'd really grown up. As she pulled away, he couldn't help but feel the distance between them as being more than just empty space.

"Congratulations, honey." She nodded and smiled as she pulled the latch on the door and climbed out. As she closed it behind her, he noticed the small smile on her face as she peered through the window back at him for a moment. But when she turned around and walked to the house and through the door, she never looked back. Clearing the sudden scratchiness from his throat, Hank Summers turned the key, started the car, and drove away.

As Buffy climbed the few, short steps onto the porch she couldn't wipe the wide smile from her face as she approached the house. This morning, when Faith had suggested that maybe Buffy go to brunch alone with her father, the blonde had thought that maybe Faith was scared. So when the shorter Slayer called her on it and Faith admitted she was a little scared of 'meeting the other parent', she entertained the thought that maybe Faith genuinely thought private was best. She'd seemed even more set on the concept when Buffy got out of the shower.

When she'd come back to their room to get ready to go, she was ready to try and talk Faith into coming with her, if only for some minor moral support; but the room was empty. She found the brunette sitting at the kitchen counter, the portable phone in front of her. She looked deep in thought. Buffy came up behind her, kissed her lovers still tousled hair and the back of her neck, before asking if Faith was sure she didn't want to come. "You know I want to spend every possible moment with you, wakeful hours and sleeping." She'd answered seriously, "You know that, don't you?" Buffy smiled and nodded; kissing those dark lips she loved. "But I think this is a battle better fought on your own, B. I'd be more of a hindrance than an asset." Buffy tried to protest but Faith cut her off.

"Buffy," she said slowly, "You need to go." She sighed, though she began to smile a little. "Some things, as much as we might not like the idea, have to be done alone. He deserves this chance, B, to get to know you without me there." So Buffy'd gone. And maybe the brunette had been right, because it'd gone a lot better than she'd thought.

They'd gotten a table outside at the restaurant in the lobby of the nice Hotel her father was staying in, and just talked. At first it had kind of unnerved Buffy, for her father to have a conversation with her as though she were a real adult, but she soon realized it was a welcome change. It certainly implied respect.

Naturally, there were a few awkward or embarrassing questions he had for her, like if they were being safe and respectful, if Buffy had always known she would fall in love with a woman, and if she'd ever planned to tell him had he not seen them with his own eyes first? But they also talked about school, SAT scores, and college. It was weird, but not bad. Perhaps because the feelings that came up had been absent for so long and they knew they shouldn't have been.

As she almost skipped through the front door now, bound for her room, she was practically giggling with delight. She'd done it – she'd graduated high school, she was going to college, she'd patched things up with her father, and she and Faith had the next three months with nothing to do but slay, relax, and be two teenagers in love.

"Faith!" she called happily as she made her way up the stairs and down the hall to her room, unable to keep the laughter out of her voice, "My dad is such a geek! You'll never believe some of the things he asked me about–"

"B!" Faith croaked out suddenly, getting up from her sitting position at the edge of their bed. The vision that had greeted the older Slayer when she entered her room was enough to render her speechless and frozen. Faith was showered and dressed, her duffle on the neatly made bed, full to bursting with what must have been everything she owned. In the room with her were five heavily armed men in tweed, one of whom had the sights of his crossbow aimed right at Buffy's head from the moment she opened the door.

"What is this?" she growled out. Faith took small, slow steps towards her. "What the hell is going on here Faith?"

"The Counsel." She pushed out, her voice shaking, "They were flagged when we were both hospitalized. They'd been in communication with Wesley the entire night Angel was sick and we were in the ICU." She sighed, reaching out for the blonde slowly. Buffy clasped both her lover's hands in her own and could feel them quaking slightly and knew this was serious. "One of the Scoobs blabbed, B." she almost sobbed, "One of them told Wes about us while we were… convalescing." The blonde shook her head as she could feel the tears begin to collect in her eyes.

"No!" she sobbed quietly. Faith nodded and gripped her hands harder.

"They called this morning when you were in the shower, to warn your mother that they were coming to get you... But I was the one who picked up the phone." She gritted her teeth for a moment before plowing on, "I made a deal. Because one of us has to go, B."

"No," Buffy insisted, more loudly this time, "No!"

"Yeah, B, I had to-"

"No, Faith, no – tell me you didn't?"

"I had no choice, B! You have family, you have friends, you have college and a future and people just have to look at you to fall in love with you!" she almost cried, "You'd do so much better staying, so much more good. I have to go."

"Faith I can't just let you leave!"

"If I leave without force," she began insistence, "They're willing to make some allowances. Phone calls, daily, and they're just taking me back to England to be trained not reassigned to Cleveland or wherever."

"Faith - you don't have to go!" she insisted loudly, "We don't have to listen to them! You can stay here if it's what you want!"

"B, you know what kind of people these guys are! Do you remember what they did to you when you turned 18? And that was to test if you were worthy enough to work for them!"

"Trust me Faith, I'm not about to forget –I can't just hand you over to them!"

"Better you let me leave with them than what happens if I stay. Wesley really spilled the beans on this one – names and addresses of all the Scoobys, not to mention they already know where your mother lives and where to find Giles." She let out a shaky breath as the blonde actually let out a short wail of pain. "All they want is one Slayer, Buffy. I go, no one else gets hurt. I try to stay and everyone is in danger, and I couldn't do that to you. That would be a selfishness no amount of love could shine over, B."

"Don't leave me, Faith, please." She pleaded.

"You have a future here B, of that there's no question… What remains to be seen is if there's a place for me in it somewhere down the line."

"What?" Buffy sniffled. Faith reached up to wipe her tears away as her own fell down her pale-olive cheeks.

"That's part of the deal," she said, unable to keep the sad smile from her face as she leaned their foreheads together, "I just have to go with them without a fight, and then wow the shit out of them with my skills once I get to England." She tried to make her voice sound more cheerful, less completely-heart-broken. "Then, after a given amount of time having proven myself, they said they'd let me back if you still wanted a partner." A small light of hope sparked back into Buffy's eyes at this, but that could have just been the sunlight reflecting in her still tears.

"How long?" she asked, near a whisper.

"Two years or so?" she muttered. Buffy moaned, holding firmly onto the hands in her own, needing the brunette to take some of her weight as the idea of two years with Faith eight time-zones away slammed into her consciousness.

"Two years?" she sobbed. Faith nodded, kissing the blonde's temple before glancing at the men surrounding them at a distance.

"They didn't say for sure. They didn't even want to speculate but I made them give me a number and that's what came up." She growled. "But god damn it, I plan to hold them to it." She pushed some stray hair behind the shorter woman's ears. "I think they're hoping, assuming we're both…" she trailed of and swallowed hard, "That by then we'll have, I dunno, grown out of this," she said, raising their joined hands, "But that's why I made them promise we'd still have calls – and daily, if we wanted them. Letters, sent without interruption or interception."

"I'm going to kill Wesley, I swear to god!" she growled wetly. Faith chuckled darkly.

"Slayer killing a civilian is how we got into this, I dunno what they'll do if one of us went after a member of the counsel. Besides, they're shipping Wesley Judus-Prick to a remote outpost of unknown destination form keeping all this information secret for so long. I hope it's in fucking Reykjavik." Buffy chuckled, unable to help the sound from bubbling up from her roughened throat.

"I have something I needed to give you." She said quietly, dropping the blonde's hands and turning back to the bed. As she riffled through her bag for a moment, the heard all the watchers fully arm their weapons and froze. Slowly drawing the item from her bag to show it's harmlessness, she turned back to Buffy. "Just like last time," she said, holding out her Diary. "Only this time – I want you to read it, B." Buffy shook her head. "Yeah, B, read it! You know damn near everything else there is to know, and for the past few months – well it's all about you and how crazy you were driving me anyways…" she trailed off, handing the leather book to her lover. "You can grill about whatever I may have written when I call tomorrow after I land." She said, resigned.

"That diary is Cunsel Property," one of the men pointed out, holding his hand out to them, "Hand it over."

"Fuck you." She growled, almost animalistic, and the man withdrew his had as though afraid that Faith might gnaw it off if he didn't. "Besides, there's not a thing about Slaying in there. I guarantee you that much." She turned back to Buffy smiling sadly.

"No, Faith, no," Buffy muttered. "You can't just expect me to let you walk out of that door? Not after the past month, after – after-" she trailed off, almost suffocated by her own tears. Faith wrapped her arms around her tightly and held her as she cried. "How are you okay with this?" she whispered, in complete shock.

"Because I know you, B." she said pulling back a bit, "You're smart, and beautiful, and the thousand other reason why I love you – and all those reasons are going to help you get through this."

"You better fucking come back to me!" she cried, wrapping her arms around the taller woman's neck again. "Promise me?"

"I don't go anywhere I'm not wanted." She answered cryptically.

"There is nothing that could possibly happen, ever, whether death or brainwashing that could make want you any further away from me than you are right now." She answered solidly, "My body knows you now, you're in my blood, and it could never forget you Faith or change the way I feel about you. So you better fucking come back to me, Fai." She sobbed, holding them together tightly. Faith held on just as hard. "And you better fucking call this time!" she warned. Faith laughed as she pulled back. Buffy refused to let her go all the way, keeping the brunette's elbows within her grip.

"I'll call. And I'll be back as soon as humanly possible. Slayerly possible." She corrected quickly. They were both crying again. Faith took Buffy's hand in hers, raise it up to her lips, and looked dead in her eyes as she kissed the ring she'd given her all those weeks ago. But that just made Buffy look like she was going to grab onto her again, and not let go this time. So she quickly zipped up her duffle and threw the shoulder strap over her head.

"Come on Ms. Faith," one of them directed, twitching his gun at the door, "Let's go." She wiped the tears from her face roughly with the heal of her palm and sniffed hard. Nodding at the blonde, stiff-backed and stone-faced she made her way down the stairs. As the rest of the men filed out behind her, the last kept his weapon fixed solidly on Buffy. She just sobbed as she threw her head back and stared at the ceiling in wonderment.

"We weren't always like this," the last remaining man muttered, his accent more Welch than English, "The Counsel wasn't always ruled by Chicken Shits; men more obsessed with the letter of the law rather than it's purpose." He sighed as Buffy finally looked at him. "But I guess that's what happens, what was bound to happen, when a watcher was reduced to a walking card catalogue." He looked at her and seemed genuinely sympathetic. He was young, and he seemed sincerely disappointed. "But the pendulum always swings back, I guess." He said, a small smile on his face as he backed out the door, though he'd already lowered his weapon. "I'll try and make sure she gets a fare shake, luv, but I make no promises. I'm just the son of a son, but I'll do my best." Buffy nodded weakly, not knowing what else to do.

As she heard him make his way down the stairs, Buffy walked over to the window and looked down onto the street. She could see the men standing around an SUV parked in the drive, Faith staring up at the window as if waiting for her. Buffy clutched the diary to her chest and smiled feebly down at her lover. Faith nodded up to her. As the youngest Councilman came down the walk she could see the others asking him what took him so long, but he just shook it off, climbing into the car. As the brunette was prodded with the tip of a crossbow, she finally slid into the back seat of the very large car.

As they pulled into the road and away Buffy felt as though all the air had gone with them. Bracing against the window with her free arm she gasped and gasped, feeling as though her throat was closing up, feeling her face burn with the effort to draw in more air as the pins-and-needles feeling spread over her cheeks. She felt as though she might faint and knew she nearly did. Losing her balance she fell into her bed, the book slamming into her chest as she hit the mattress. She looked at it as her breathing slowed somewhat and tears sprang to her eyes.

"Two years!" she wailed to an empty house, and empty room, suddenly wondering how she was going to explain this to her mother – how she was going to sleep at night without Faith's warm, familiar body to curl into, her scent when she woke up, her laugh when they patrolled "Two years…" She moaned. She knew it could be a lifetime.

Two years ago, almost to the day, Buffy herself had died. A year ago, Kendra had died, beginning the chain of events that would eventually bring Faith and she together. She just had to believe that this separation was a part of that – merely a step along a longer path towards something else. Something, sometime when she and Faith would be back together again. As she looked at the book again, she saw the cover was bowed, as though something thick had been stuffed into it's pages. Opening it, a stack of letters fell out. One was marked Buffy: Read Me First. She did.

Dear B,

As cliché as this sounds, no matter the truth in it – by the time you read this, I'll already be gone. Probably. Whatever, I don't write so well when pressed for time. There are men hovering over my right now, waiting for you to get back from breakfast with your dad… In case I don't tell you before you read this – I hope it went well. And I'm sorry I couldn't be there. And I'm sorry I have to go.
If I had gone, and if the man'd asked, I would have told him that I love you (because I
do) and that though you don't often need it, I want to take care of you. I'd tell him I'd do anything for you, and I hope what I'm doing now proves that to you. Even though it sucks…
B, despite what you may think this is (besides being a raw deal – it is that, without a doubt) this isn't some kind of goodbye. And if it is, it's the kind of goodbye you say when you hang up a phone, not like when burying a friend. This isn't forever, this isn't an end. This is an unwelcome intermission and that's all. I
will call. I will love you forever B.
I don't know what's going to happen, not between now and you coming back, not between now and my coming back – they say the man who knows his future is already dead and I got reason enough to live if only to not completely break your heart, B. Because I do believe you love me. And for a long time I didn't think such a thing were possible but I believe. I can feel it inside me. I can feel you inside me; there, down deep.
In my heart, I mean, not… well, yeah, there too sometimes, but I'm talking about love! Okay, so they both have to do with love, but – I meant in my heart, mostly.
I'm almost out of paper and I don't want to still be writing this when you arrive – that would defeat the purpose – so I'll be brief: I love you, I'm coming back, I'm not doing this to hurt you, and I'm going to miss you like… I can't think of anything large enough right now. But last time I left you said keeping this journal by you helped you feel close to me even when I was so far away. So I want you to open it, and read it, and actually
be close this time. The letters are left over from my first trip to England – me trying to figure out how to tell you I loved you… the get progressively more honest (and a big more vulgar) as they go on… as I got more drunk... I trust you to find all these ramblings cute rather than pathetic now that we're lovers. Please let me be right in assuming that.

Your father's parked outside, they say and you must be with him. I'll see you soon, I guess.

All the love I have and any I may generate in the future,

G. Faith (Summers)

She cried. She cried and cried, holding the book and scattered loose pages to her chest as it heaved up and down, sobbing out loud. When a heart breaks, it doesn't sound like glass shattering or wood snapping, it's far, far worse. It's a voice yelled horse until it's silenced, a stomach turning as it ties itself in knots, a heart beating hard as it circulates blood left cold and tears sizzling on warm, red cheeks. It's hard, and visceral, and slow and agony. And she knew it would happened again, tomorrow night, and every night after that, when she heard Faith's voice in her ear again, for as long as they could stand it.

( The End Of Hope's Drowning)


PS: Over the years I have gotten so many questions about the title of this fic, and this had always been my plan – to give it context in the last chapter. The end as depicted here was one of the first things I thought up when writing this story. I knew this part of the story would end in painful separation, and the significance of the title is "When I feel my Hope's Drowning I turn to you and it is saved". Inspired by the dream Buffy has of Allen Finch's body pulling her down in S3 "Consequences" before she makes it to the surface and Faith just pushes her down again. I always found that to be a very disturbing and very Anti-Fuffy image and I wanted to turn it on its ass. How'd I do? - VixR