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Two Line Challenge (Again)

Current state of Affairs:
Remix Fic - Done and Submitted
Ficlet Challenge - Done and Not Submitted
Isn't It Iconic Challenge - Almost done, Not submitted
Sirius/Remus Denial Fic - DONE. (took long enough)
Lots of Other Stuff - Not Done. Damnit

VictoriaP's Two Line Challenge continues to amuse. This is now the third story I've written for it, and the second lyric she gave me. I love assignments.

Title: Homecoming
Author: Sullen Siren (adena(at)direcway(dot)com
Summary: "She'd traveled the world and found that as different as things were, some things stayed the same."
Rating: PG
Pairing: Willow/Xander
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters from Buffy or Angel, and am only playing with them a bit.
Feedback: by all means.
Notes: Written for musesfool's Two-Line Challenge. The lyrics she gave me were "I've journeyed here and there and back again/But in the same old haunts I still find my friends" from "thirty-three", by Smashing Pumpkins



Homecoming
"I've journeyed here and there and back again
But in the same old haunts I still find my friends"
"thirty-three" - Smashing Pumpkins


She'd traveled the world and found that as different as things were, some things stayed the same. Bad drivers were universal no matter which side of the road they drove on. There were always crying babies on planes, and always at least one rude stewardess - hostess, you had to call them hostesses, now. Peanut butter tasted the same in France as it did in Italy, and it was no different in Italy than it was in Cincinnati. The memories of the things you'd done and the person you'd been followed you from place to place, always a step ahead of where you went to escape them. And no matter how long she stayed in one place, it never felt like home.

In France Kennedy had left. She had kissed her goodbye and promised she'd be back, but Slayer duty called. Weeks stretched to months, and then to a year, and somewhere along the way the letters and phone calls slowed to a trickle. In Bulgaria she'd kissed a tall dark haired girl and realized that she didn't miss Kennedy anymore. She didn't know that she'd really missed her even when the wound of her leaving was new and raw.

Tara was always with her. She knew that, now, but sometimes she still felt the pain of her absence. Phantom pains, as if remembered from some limb she had lost - a vital part cut away before she was ready. She'd learned to cherish the pain though, to love it even. In the sharpness of the pain she was sure of what she had - most people would never know love as certainly as she had. That was a gift, and the grief that came in its wake was too.

In Africa a shaman had taught her to read souls like the pages of a book. She could see lives written there, loves, hatreds, desires - everything. When she looked at her own, she saw blues and golds that spelled out hope, love, memory. In the pages behind her she saw great, arching slashes of red and black that told of death and despair. She read those as often as she read the others. Willow made herself remember, always. It was how she made certain it would never happen again. She slipped back into moments when so many had nearly died because of her, and remembered, and regretted. A therapist would likely have told her to move on - but then most therapists had never nearly destroyed the world, so she saw little need to seek one's help, despite what her mother said.

Spain, Bulgaria, Australia - Willow went where whim, magic, or work took her. Money came easily to her. She finished her degrees at Oxford, and did debugging for networks around the globe. They always asked her to stay, she never said yes.

It was a new company in L.A. that called her. She was in Italy, a book of Italian phrases beside her bed. She never used it. She'd cast the spell to add Italian to her long repertoire of languages a few days past. She always told herself she would learn it the hard way, this time, and then someone spoke to her and the words whizzed by too fast and she lost track of what she was doing, and gave in. The spell was simple - Giles said it was the simple ones that were the most insidious - and suddenly she was fluent. Giles spoke to her often. He worried for her. They all did. Buffy's voice on the phone sounded older, but more free than it had since Willow had known her. Dawn's voice had gotten throaty and sophisticated and Buffy grumbled about the cigarettes her sister had taken up smoking.

Shed met Oz in a cafe in Brazil. He was like the still point in a storm, still. Quiet and calm and focused with that slight smile that was as fathomless as the center of the ocean. They'd held hands and kissed goodbye and she paged through the colors of her spirit, remembering how hot the love she'd had for him had burned, and been comforted by the fact that it was nearly as strong now, though it burned warm and familiar instead of flaring and passionate. He was in love with a dancer from Spain, and Willow had been happy for him. He said he still thought of her, and she believed him. It was who he was - she could see that in him as clearly as she saw his strength. He loved forever - it was the only way he knew how. He loved a dancer from Spain, but if she asked he would have come with her, loved her, been with her.

She didn't ask. It was only a few times, in colder places when the wind outside the hotel room she slept in blew fierce and strange outside her window, that she regretted that decision. In Italy she felt alone and lost and though of the sunshine and horror of California while the man on the other end tried to control the panic in his voice as he talked of viruses and network loop failures and didn't understand a word of what he was saying.

She finished her job there two days later, packing the expensive luggage Kennedy had gotten her years before. Seven years since she left. Seven years of wandering, of scratchy phone lines and halting conversations and quiet voices that wondered when she'd be back. She'd never lived in L. A. - but she felt as if she were going home.

They'd scattered over the years, the Scoobies. Willow still woke up at night sometimes with her heart in her throat, wondering if somewhere, one of them was dead. Her family, her heart, her friends. There were so many things she wouldn't be if she hadn't met them - and only a few of those did she wake up crying over, wishing that she hadn't been the woman who did those things.

He'd been the first to go back. No one had been surprised, really. Buffy and Dawn learned French quickly over candle-lit dinners and wine with too-charming Frenchmen, and took to the streets of Paris as if they were made to fit there. Giles flat in Surrey was dank and vast and filled with books and Andrew slept in the guest room, when he wasn't trekking around the country in search of Slayers. They had all found homes.

He hadn't. Europe had been strange and cold to him, and as the others found their places, he'd stayed where he was. He'd gone with them because they loved him, but in the end they'd loved him enough to know when it was time to let him go.

He wrote, often. His letters chasing her from place to place to place, arriving in great bundles all at once and she sat up all night, reading and re-reading and wishing that they'd held the smell of him in the mailing, but they never did. Sunnydale was nothing but a great ruin filled with demons who returned in search of the Hellmouth they'd closed. He had a house just outside of L. A. He went to see Angel sometimes, and reported that yes, he still hated him. He seemed to find the fact that he still found Angel insufferable a comfort. He wrote of a brown-haired girl who stayed a few weeks with him, and a blonde two years later that worked at a zoo and had a nice smile, passing references that she recognized as empty and temporary, even if he didn't.

The trip back was too long and the plane bucked in a storm that turned its passengers green and set the inevitable babies to their wailing symphony. Her cell phone rang over and over once she arrived in the airport as her nervous employer wondered, suggested, and finally begged that she come there immediately. She got her luggage and placated him. Of course she would. Right away.

But the taxi took her to a small house just outside of town. The truck in the driveway was too dirty, and the mailbox was tilted off center, its base obviously rebuilt - though rebuilt well. The little house was in perfect repair, but its windows were filthy and little dishes of cat food sat outside the front door, both crawling with tiny and grateful ants.

She started to knock and then just twisted the knob. Sunnydale bred and born - they never locked the door unless they weren't home. All of the worst things could come inside anyway - though some had to be invited.

It smelled like Xander. Like lost youth and a hundred nights spent talking about what they'd do when they grew up. The house was an odd juxtaposition of neatness and strewn items that seemed out of place in the "everything in its place" atmosphere. The shades were drawn on most of the windows, blocking out the waning daylight outside. She understood that. Her hotel rooms always had the curtains drawn across, always dark. It had driven Kennedy mad, but she couldn't relax until it was dim and cool and too-still.

He sat on a sofa, blue-screen reflections in his eye from the TV he stared at without seeming to really see. He didn't wear the patch, and the empty hole seemed an infringement on the face she'd loved since childhood. He looked older, thinner, more fragile, and strangely lost.

He looked up and a smile - big and warm and utterly unsurprised lit his face, and suddenly he was seventeen again and so was she. "Hey Will."

"You should pick up those dishes outside. The poor little kitties will get ants on their nose when they eat."

"I'm pretty sure they'd survive the trauma." He stopped, looked at her, and she read his pages. She saw the deep tones of the earth and the silver streak of loneliness. She saw what she had always seen, even before she'd known to look. She saw her other half. "Will . . . what are you doing here? Not that I'm not glad to see you, because I am, but there's this thing called a phone? Some people use it to relay messages."

She smiled and dropped her purse on the table, plopped on the sofa beside him and laid her head on his arm. "I'm home."

He put his arm around her, pulling her against him and she remembered, for the first time in years, that she used to assume they'd grow old together. If he questioned it, he said nothing. He accepted. Because he was Xander, and she was Willow, and whatever else there had been, neither one of them would ever be home without the other. "Yeah - you are." Silence rose, familiar and comfortable as animated images fluttered and frolicked on the large TV screen. She felt his grin, though she couldn't see it without raising her head. "So, you'll pay half the rent now, right?"

She laughed, realizing how long it had been since she'd done that. "Maybe. You're going to cook though, right?"

"I've learnt that harsh lesson, Will. I don't let you near a pot to cook anything that isn't excessively smelly magic herbs. Remember the Great Oatmeal Fiasco of '92?"

"Mmmm . . . that never did come out of the carpet. My mom was displeased." She looked up, and smiled, and she saw herself reflected in his eye. She looked like Willow. She hadn't seen herself when she looked in the mirror for a long time. "Missed you."

"Missed you too."

"I'm hungry."

"I'll get pizza."

"Ohh . . . okay. I want -"

"Half pepperoni, half cheese with pineapple." He grinned and rose to order as she went to call her company. They'd offer her a permanent position. They always did. And she'd stay.

*********


People have been doing something highly disturbing lately. They're writing things that make me like - or at least empathize with - Snape a bit. I hate that. I hate Snape, and get a lovely little warm and fuzzy glow from disliking him, his greasy hair, and his nonstop prejudice and pettiness. We hates him, we does.

And yet people write things that make him fascinating to me, and then I feel as if my world is in a tailspin. People write things like this and this and something else that I can't find the link for, and boom. I'm all in a tizzy.

In other news, if you have not ever listened to Patty Griffin, I highly recommend you go and pick up an album. "Listening to Ghosts" is the one I've heard methinks, and it's lovely. Like a more earthy Joni Mitchell.

I have FIC that needs posting. Horridly little angsty HP trio piece, and an Angel Illyria bit. Hmmmmm.
Tags: fandom - btvs/ats, fic, fic challenges
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