Title: All the Ports of Call

Author: Soleil

Disclaimer: In case you were wondering, I still don't own them. Other people do.

Summary: I think we can all agree that I've been pretty shippery recently, right? This is angst. Pure and simple. Sorry. My muse made me do it. A sort of follow up to "What if?" Only in the vaguest possible way though.

AN: First: I owe thank yous to everyone who sent feedback for Sugar, Sugar. I'm truly sorry I didn't send out personal thank yous, but my email ate everything. I'm so sorry.

Second: This is angst. You've been warned. And before I get flamed, yes, I'm a shipper. See, for example, the bulk of my stuff. I'm just doing something a little different this time around.

Third: I've been super busy recently, between work, my original writing, and reading everyone else's stuff, I'm a little bogged down. So bear with me. Now, if you made it past all that....


They saw each other again years later, when time and age had done what proximity and good intentions could not do. When she left, bitterness and frustration had simmered beneath the surface of each conversation. They flowed like lava between them, hot and angry and ready to erupt, covered by a thin crust of strained friendliness. The good-bye was almost perfunctory and filled with half-meant promises. They promised to write, to call, to keep in touch. They promised not to let the miles affect them. And then they turned and walked away, leaving each other behind.

Years had passed. They piled up, one by one until they had built a wall as thick and as real as any made of concrete. It was impossible to lost track of him completely. And, if she were honest with herself, she didn't really want to cut all ties to him.

So, she knew, as he must have known, that he would be at the party for AJ's high school graduation. Children, some hers, most not, of all ages crowded the backyard, ducking behind trees and legs and climbing on to laps. Tomorrow, AJ would have a party with his friends, but this night was a thank-you to everyone who had influenced and helped him.

The air was thick, filled with scents from the barbecue and the noise of the guests. The sun had set hours ago, leaving the yard bathed in blues and lit by lanterns and torches. Most of the guests hadn't been at the graduation ceremony and were only starting to arrive. The sound of the screen door sliding in its tracks swished rhythmically as the guests filtered through the house.

She saw him as soon as he stepped on to the deck. She had been sitting at a picnic table, talking to Sturgis and keeping an eye on her daughters. During a pause in the conversation, a moment when Sturgis was distracted by a child's sticky fingers, she glanced at the screen door just as he walked through it.

She knew the moment he saw her, too. She felt his gaze snag on her like she was thistle. It caught and held and her fingers tensed around the edges of the picnic table. For a minute, the years slid away and she felt like had twelve years ago, anxious and confused. Then he continued his scan of the yard and her daughter careened into her back and she remembered where she was.