If you don't like girlxgirl pairings, then I suggest you leave now. There's nothing here that you will enjoy.

Notes: Thanks for the great reviews, I loved reading everyone of them. Here's the second to last chapter. I should note that I have no personal experience in how people change after serving in the military during , so sorry if I'm offending any veterans out there. With that said, please enjoy.

Disclaimer: No, I do not own Hannah Montana or any characters associated with the show.

While You Were Away

"Coming Home"

It's funny how fast six years can pass.

That's what I think as I sit in the almost completely empty Baghdad airport in Iraq. Around me are littered a few other soldiers who are returning to the United States for various reasons, some good and some not so good.

I make sure not to look at the young man with two stumps for legs, sitting in a wheel chair as he stared blankly out the window. I've learned over the years that the disabled soldiers hate it when people stare.

I've been in this airport for almost an hour now due to there being a flight delay, but I can wait. Patience is a virtue I learned very quickly.

My first job in the army was as a driver for supply caravans. As a soldier manning the deadly roads of a war torn country, one must always remember to keep their cool. Antsy soldiers who got impatient usally found themselves in deep shit.

I shift a bit in the hard plastic seat, adjusting the large open folder in my lap as I try to get more comfortable.

Looking down at the folder, which was filled hundreds of upon hundreds of letters laminated in plastic, I couldn't help but let the small, warm smile cross my face. Such smiles have been rare for me the last six years.

Miley.

Just thinking the name brought so many feelings to the forefront.

Chewing on my bottom lip, I flip through back to the very first page to begin from the beginning. I've lost count the number of times I've read through them. Enough that eventually I had to get them laminated to protect the letters after they became frail from being handled and read so many times.

The first letter had came not long after I was stationed at my first post in Iraq. Thinking back to all those years ago, it was almost impossible to remember the still innocent girl I had once been.

When the first letter had arrived, I was still in the dumps about the whole mess with Miles. I mean, I couldn't really blame her at the time for how she reacted. Had she pulled the same thing on me, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been any better. It was foolish of me to wish she could have understood right then and there why I hadn't told anybody about enlisting in the military. How could she have known it was something that had been on my since our senior year? I remember how it all began.

During our final year at Sea View High School Oliver had been talking nonstop about UCLA where he was planning on attending, Miley had been engrossed in her blossoming romance with Jake and her Hannah alter ego, and I...well, I was at a standstill. I knew I wasn't going to colllege, I just knew it. If I could barely stand to sit through a fifty minute class in high school and struggled with just about every test and assignment I was given, then I would be eaten alive in college. So what was left after high school?

I knew that if I just asked Miles, she would be more than willing to set me up with a job doing some kind of Hannah business, but I could never ask her of such a thing. I would rather rot in an alley then mooch off my best friend's hard work. For a while I thought about finding a job somewhere, but with the way the job market was looking, it was next to impossible to find one without any experience. And working sixty hours a week at minimum pay wasn't very appealing.

The thought of just bumming off my parents till I found something worthwhile came across only once before being thoroughly dismissed. I was already at a standstill in life, and I needed to find something that would start me off running right out of high school. Then, one fateful day, an army recruiter visited our school. I remember Oliver and Miley both barely even acknowledging the fact that the uniformed woman was even on campus.

Unlike them, I was enraptured.

The army recruiter was about half a foot taller than I was, and looked to be in about her mid forties. She had a presence about her that had awed me and every time I saw her in the hallways, I couldn't help but stare. I think it was how she held herself, how all the teachers and even the most rancorous of the students cowed beneath her intense eyes. Eyes that spoke of experiences regular civilians would never be able to comprehend. She carried herself with pride, and walked with purpose. I would look at her and see traits in her that I lacked severly. Discipline, pride, confidence, bravery...

I wanted to be like her.

That was the thought that repeated over and over inside of my head while Miley and Oliver barely spared her a glance during the brief few days she was there. Had they paid a little more attention to me during the week the recruiter was there, they might have caught wind of what I was planning to do

One day, instead of going to lunch with Miles and Oliver, I sought out the army recruiter.

The hour I spent talking with her changed my life forever. Her strong words, her confident gaze, her stone hard posture. When I think back on it, I'm pretty sure I must have been crushing hardcore on her. I certainly was blushing pretty hard the entire time I was talking to her. But those are feelings I would come to understand much, much later. After our conversation, I had been completely sold on the idea of enlisting. The only problem then was my mom and....Miley.

I finish reading the first letter Miley had sent, taking in a deep breath as I willed away the stinging sensation in my eyes. So full of pain and remorse, it had been almost unbearable reading through it the very first time.

I remember the day I told everyone. I remember the day I told her. Originally, I was planning on only telling mom and then just leaving without telling everyone else. I was prepared to embark on my new life and leave the old Lilly behind. Oliver and Miley had bright futures ahead of them, and I couldn't bare telling them I wouldn't be there for a good chunk of it. But then....

The day Miley announced her engagement completely floored me. I chuckle as I recall standing slack jawed in Miley's kitchen, staring bug eyed at my blushing friend and a very proud looking Jake. Mr. Stewart had looked torn between being happy for his little girl and murdering Jake on the spot. And Olly was, well, was Oliver. He fainted like the doughnut he was.

Gosh, Miley had looked so happy. Part of me was devastated because no matter what she said, I was losing my best friend. Cause it wasn't my crazy best friend Miley Ray Stewart that had stood there blushing next to her future husband; it was a grown, mature, beautiful woman name Miley Ray Stewart, soon to be Stewart-Ryan. She had grown up before my eyes and it was then and there that I was positive that I made the correct choice to enlist in the military. My best friend was leaving behind her immature teenage life, and I was determined to do the same no matter the cost.

I remember the hugs and the happy tears, how we celebrated late into the night. I remember the sleep over that we had, how I had held Miley so tightly while she slept, trying not to cry because I knew I would soon have to say goodbye. The morning after was the last time I ever got to hold my best friend in my arms when I hugged her goodbye before I made my way home.

The few days following that announcement Miley had been so busy letting Jake smother and spoil her with his feelings, that before I knew it, it was the day before I was leaving and the only contact I had with Miley lately was our daily talk over the phone before we went to bed.

I mean it when I said I was just going to tell my mom, but....God, I just wanted to have one more hug from my friend. One last time to say goodbye to everybody. And it was then I realized how selfish I had been. Just so I could avoid dealing with the feelings of my friends and family, I had been planning to suddenly abandon them without saying a word. I had wanted it my way and I had been about to hurt everybody just to get it.

So I decided to come clean, the consequences be damned. Standing in front of everybody, palms sweating, heart in my throat. Staring into their curious eyes, unaware of the bomb I was going to drop on them. Then.... I did it.

I spilled the beans.

Man, that had been the most difficult thing I had ever done up to that point.

First came the relief from unloading my secret. It had felt like a weight had been lifted of my shoulders. Then came the silence. That horrible, horrible silence. What little relief I had gained was swept away and replaced with dread when it became apparent I was in for a good tongue thrashing. And once my words had sunk in, then came the expected backlash. Yet no matter how hard I tried to steel myself for it, the pain that followed would forever be seared into my mind. Seeing the varied looks of shock and disbelief from everyone was hard enough, but it was Miley who doled out the heavy blows, figuratively and literlaly.

The sight of Miley's stunned face, the tears that started to trail down her face, then the accusing eyes...

Her anger....

The words that spilled from her mouth burned my like molten lava, leaving trails in my soul that will forever be scarred. It wasn't the first or second time she slapped me that hurt the most. It was the thought that I was the reason behind her turmoil. That I had shattered our sacred trust. That I was watching our eternal friendship burn before my very eyes.

Of all the things she screamed, I can only clearly remember her calling me a bad friend. The accusation had been like a nuke to my very being. And yet... I completely agreed with her. I was a horrbile friend to do such a thing to her.

So the only thing I could do was watch and smile sadly as she was pulled away, smile and hope that come tomorrow morning, she would at least think me worthy enough of a goodbye. But I knew then that it would be the final time I would see her, and it killed me to think the last memory of Miley I would have would be of her sorrowful tears and her angry words.

That night, I remember hugging Oliver and Jackson goodbye, feeling worse the second when I realize they were shedding tears over me.

That night, I remember staring sorrowfully at the open porch door, loud harsh words being exchanged outside betweeen an incensed Miles and her dad.

That night, I held my mom's hand on the drive home as she held back her tears and told me she was proud of me for making such a brave decision.

That night...I collapsed into my bed and cried the hardest I ever cried in my life as I lamented my cruel actions.

Because I was too much of a coward to tell everyone sooner, I had hurt everybody I ever cared about deeply in one fell swoop. I never knew the true meaning of self loathing till that night.

The next morning I had been numb. I can't even remember hugging everyone goodbye. Miley hadn't come. And that was fine. After what I did to her, I deserved such. And for about a month after, I remained numb. Basic training had been a complete blur to me. I would allow my mind to go blank as I numbly followed the orders of the drill sergeant and use the exhaustion from the day to fall into a dreamless sleep. I can barely remember those grueling weeks, and remained in that zombie like state for while.

That was until I received the very first letter from Miley...

I flip the page to another of the letters Miley had sent me about a year ago and I feel my cheeks flush a bit. I was aware of the fact that when she wanted to, Miley could write words that could move the hardest of souls. But until that first letter arrived, such words had never been directed at me. The feelings she had tried to convey....Miles words had breathed in new life into my desolated soul. My eyes linger on a particular paragraph. I've already come to the decision that it's my favorite passage of all her letters.

I love and adore you, my precious, sweet Lilly. I yearn to hold you and once again fill my soul with the happiness that only you can bring. The ache that devours me, the desire to have my most important person with me once again...I dream of you night after night and wake up feeling empty again and again, wishing fervently that if only I could dream of you forever and never wake up. When I realize I must go through another day without you, I feel a deep pain that can only be described as unbearable. My mind and heart thinks of you and only you, my lovely Lilly. The coldest of lakes and the frozen tundra itself can't even begin to soothe the ache that burns in me eternally for you. My dearest, precious friend, how can I ever convey to you the unfillable void that was left by you? How can I make you understand just how much I would give to hold you once again? I am incomplete and broken, and shall remain so till you return. I love you Lilly, with every fiber of my being....Return home safely, my sweet Lilly, and complete me once again...Come back and I shall devote the rest of my life to showing you just how much I truly love you...

I clear my throat as I loosen my collar a little. Christ, the things her words did to me. I spent many a sleepless night reading the same letters over and over again, memorizing every line, every letter. I can hardly believe that she's been writing to me nonstop for six years, especially since I've never written her back once. Because....because well...

The first letter I had received hit me so hard, that I didn't quite know how to respond to it. It had been so moving, so impactful, that I wanted my letter to her to be perfect. And before I could put pen to paper, I received another letter from her, just as moving and emotional.

I shake my head amusedly as I remember how I had been in such a hurry to respond back. She had sent me two letters and I was desperate to write at least one back. But then she had sent another one, then another, and another, and another... I was swept away and drowned in Miley's flowing words of love and devotion. Of her pain and sorrow. Of how she prayed for me and begged me to come home safe.

I stopped trying to write back, and became contented with spending every second of free time I had to reading her words over and over again, absorbing ever ounce of love that her letters radiated. There was a dark part of me that relished in the desperation Miley's letters implied. I can't deny the fact that I constantly found myself relishing in the thought that my the friend who had spurned me during our last meeting was now worshiping my very existence with words that would impress the greatest of poets.

Before I knew it, somewhere along the way the image I had of Miley had taken a drastic turn. She had once been the crazy teenager who had been my best friend, and then the grown woman who was engaged to Jake Ryan, and now...

Hmm, I had almost forgotten about Mr. Ryan...

I smirk as I flip to the letter I received about two years ago in which just briefly, Miley noted she was no longer engaged. No reasons were given, no story was told. The letter just began with a brief sentence:

Jake and I decided to go our separate ways.

And as far as Jake and their engagement, that was it. The rest of the letter had been Miley's usual poetics, filled with her intense feelings and musings. I can't help but wonder what she was thinking when she broke it off with Mr. Perfect. Six years ago, my best friend was totally convinced Jake was the one.

I sigh softly at the thought. Best friend....I wonder if that's what she is to me now. What I am to her. In all honesty, when I left Malibu I was positive that I would lose my role as best friend when it came to Miley. At most, I thought we could still be friends who occasionally saw each other when I finished my service.

But now....

I close my eyes and slouch a bit in my seat as I chew my bottom lip thoughtfully.

I want to say we're still best friends, but her letters tell me a different story.

It's like we're floating in purgatory in between two states of being. The day I told her about my enlistment, the bond between us was shattered. And from those shatters, the bond was slowly rebuilt with every letter that Miley sent. But it wasn't the same. What was built from those shattered pieces glued together by Mileys words of love and sorrow was something vastly different. On one end is the familiarity of years of friendship and sisterhood, and on the other end is something so intense it scares me. Whenever I try to think of that other end, I get anxious and unsure, especially when I think about what feelings must be coursing through Miley for her to be able to write such beautiful words.

For six years she continuously wrote me letters, each one more moving then the next, expressing feelings so intense and potent that to say we were just mere best friends didn't seem to fit. I remember letting one of my comrades read one of the letters after a lot of begging and whining. She had asked me if Mileywas the love that I had left behind like so many other soldiers.

I pondered on that question for awhile, but I never answered it. Maybe because I didn't know the answer. Maybe because the answer was already laid in front of my in the form of hundreds of pages of words, each one devoted to me.

I chew on my bottom lip as I slowly flip through the pages, my eyes tracing Miley's flowing script. I feel my heart flutter at the thought that soon I would be reunited with person who had written me such priceless letters of affection. Just sitting here waiting is killing me inside, but I'm use to it. I've done a lot of waiting over the years.

God, how I waited in anticipation day after day for the next letter to come. My heart would pound in my chest and my hands would tremble whenever a new letter would be handed to me. I would retreat to the most secluded place I could find and allow myself a few blissful moments to swim in the feelings that traveled thousands of miles to reach me. And the thought that she kept writing letter after letter with the looming thought that a response from me was most likely never to come moved me in ways nobody could understand.

How ironic that the very first letter I sent back in response would be my last.

A simple postcard that I sent first class to Malibu, California for one Miley Ray Stewart that said simply:

Miley,

May 5, LAX: 12:35pm, Terminal 5, Gate 58.

Mind picking me up?

-Lilly

p.s. Don't tell mom, I want to surprise her :)

I grin to myself as I close the worn folder in my lap and lean back into my seat, turning my head to watch the planes be taxied in and out. Man, what would I have given to be able to see the look on her face when she read those words.

I guess it was a bit cruel of me to write a letter that revealed non of what I feel for her, of how I missed her constantly and how I loved her so, so much. But then again I've never been good at writing. Hell, the only reason I passed composition class in high school was because of Miley and Oliver.

Instead, I've already made the decision that I'll let my actions speak for themselves. And boy I hope Miles has been working out, cause when I see her I'm gonna hug her so tight she wont be able to sit right for a week!

I feel my grin weaken a bit. Well, I'll hug her if she doesn't cringe away from me that is. I'm pretty she'll be in for the shock of her life when she gets a look at me. Spending six years in war torn deserts and mountains can change a person quite a bit.

I wont claim to be as hardened and scarred up as most soldiers. There are men and women who I've fought with all these years who I know will never be able to return to the lives they left behind. I know it sounds selfish, but I'm thankful I'm one of the few to walk away with body and soul intact. Besides a scar here and there on my body, the only immediately noticeable soldier esque mark I have is an old scar running down my bottom lip slightly to the left side that I received from the butt of a gun of an enemy that got just a little too close for comfort and the small scar running across the bridge of my nose...

Okay, so it's freakin' huge. It runs all the way from my right cheek, over my nose, and ends on my left cheek. I got that little beauty from a flying piece of shrapnel after a supply truck was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. We were so entrenched during that battle, that by the time I managed to get my injury examined by a doctor, the thing had already started the healing process leading to inevitable scarring.

The guys told me it made me look like a total bad ass, which I have mixed feelings about. I like getting the extra respect from the men, but I get anxious when I think what others outside the military would think of me. Would I look to intimidating to approach?

I can only hope that if I smile wide enough, maybe Miley wont notice. Maybe all she'll see is the same girl who had walked out of her life six years ago.

I sigh as I hug the folder to my chest and close my eyes.

I worry about returning to my old life sometimes.

The past six years of my life have been filled with the constant reminder that any day could be my last. Even though I grew accustomed to the constant anxiety that came with being a soldier, letting go of it was hard to imagine. Lazing around watching television, going to the beach just to lay in the sun and surf a little bit, going to the mall just to pass the time, gossiping about boys and celebrities, going to Hannah concerts....

I can't imagine it. No matter how hard I try, I can't visualize returning to that life.

Waking up at the butt crack of dawn to catch a small and unsatisfying breakfast with the members of my unit. Not taking a shower for weeks at a time because there was no running water in the area. Always having my finger on the trigger as we drive through quiet villages and bustling cities, my heart pounding in my ears I wearily eye the locals.

That was the life I lived these last few years. It was hell. I would never have believed that it would be so hard to leave behind till now. Not because I desired it, but because it had been my reality for six long years. And imagining anything different was-

My eyes snap open when I hear the sound of glass shattering. I jump to my feet, and clutching the folder to my chest with one arm, I instinctively reach for my hip for the handgun that's no longer there.

A cursing airport official is crouched to the ground as he cleans up the shattered pieces of glass that was once a glass mug filled with coffee.

I let out the breath I hadn't realized I had been holding before flopping into my seat, blushing when I noted that the other soldiers in the terminal hadn't reacted in a similar fashion. I run a hand through my shoulder length hair, trying to will my heart to calm down.

As a soldier, I was trained to react on instinct. Those who failed to learn to react on instinct were usually the ones who went home in body bags. Ironic how they spend so much time hammering it into you and expect you to live normally once you return to civilian life.

I relax my hold on the large folder and glance down at it, studying the picture I had taped to the front of it.

It was an old picture of Miley and I sitting under a large oak tree, smiling up at the camera with an arm around each others shoulders, both of us sticking our hands out with two fingers up in the universal peace sign. Oliver had snapped it during a brief trip to the park.

That girl in the picture....I wonder if I can become her again? Or more importantly, do I even want to?

Not really.

Even though I lost the carefree attitude of my youth, I've gained so much more in exchange. I became the woman I desired to be. I feel like I've reached a level of maturity that wouldn't have been possible had I stayed in Malibu. Confidence, power, discipline...these were concepts that I never grasped till I joined the military.

However, I can't help but worry over who exactly it is everyone at home is waiting for. The girl who left Malibu six years ago is gone forever, replaced by a hardened, well seasoned soldier. Will they except such a person?

Will Miley except me?

I suck my teeth and gently knock a knuckle against my forehead.

I really need to stop being so introspective about this. I've been thinking way to much lately since I know longer have to worry whether my rifle is functioning or whether the little kid crossing the street has a bomb hidden under his clothes.

I sigh as I put the large folder back into my sack. Soon, I'll no longer have to ponder about all these things. My feelings for Miley, her feelins for me, our six year stretch of being far apart, returning to the life I left behind...

I smile to myself when I see my plane being taxied up to the terminal.

Soon, all those things will come to a conclusion. Tears will be shed, hugs will be given and received, and questions will be answered. And I'll finally give my response to the hundreds of letters Miley has sent me.

I stand up and sling my sack of my shoulder, a smile still on my face. It doesn't take long for me to fall into my seat on the plane and wait as the other passengers file their way onto the aircraft. I close my eyes and force myself to relax. It's a long flight home so I might as well get some sleep. I take a deep relaxing breath, and say a silent prayer for a safe flight home.

Cause it would suck to die in a fiery plane crash now of all times.

As I feel consciousness start to leave me, I say one more silent prayer.

I pray that when I step off this airplane and into the terminal, the first thing I'll see is Miley's smiling face.

After six years of hell, I prayed that God would at least grant me this one small wish.

to be continued...

AN: Well, in my opinion it's not as good as the first chapter, but then again I think that about all my stories. Anyways, the final chapter is next. So let me know what you think so far. Review!!!