She'd been sitting atop the swing set when he arrived. Without a word, he climbed the metal piping and perched next to her. Abby nodded at him in greeting and shifted her legs to make the numbness recede.

"My dad came home today,"

His whispered words came to her gently. They nearly knocked her to the ground. She looked at him, expecting a beaming smile and shimmering eyes. Their absence hit her like a rock. His blue orbs were shaded, his mouth set in a grim frown. He avoided meeting her gaze, staring past his sneakers to the brown grass. The wind whipped their hair in the silence. She readjusted her grip around the bar, palms squeaking painfully against metal.

"He came home in a pine box."

Abby closed her eyes in shared pain for her best friend. His voice was thick with barely-restrained emotion. His father, the one taboo between them, had fallen back into their lives from the sky. Like a downed airplane, but twice as catastrophic. She bit her lip and jumped.

Free-falling for a second and her ankles gave to compensate for meeting the ground. He thudded beside her and she rubbed her arm awkwardly before taking a seat in the blue rubber swing. He twisted the chains for her, setting them free so she'd go spinning around and around until she didn't know one blur from another. Her feet scraped against the dirt in circles, sending clouds of grime with the wind.

When she stopped, he was occupying the swing next to her, glaring hard into space at the stars above. The stars winked merrily back, unconcerned with the troubles of two mere Earthen teens. She opened her mouth to say something. He cut her off before she could. "Don't say sorry." Her lips pressed together again and she let him continue. "I knew he was gone years ago. There's nothing to be sorry for." He gripped the chain links harder and even in the growing darkness she could see his knuckles go white. "I just wish Mom wasn't taking it so hard." Hoagie sighed, the sound of those resigned to a fate. "They knocked on our door, just like you see 'em do in movies," he shook his head and swallowed. "Gone for six years, dead for three. That's what they told my mom. Six years. Right after the letters stopped coming."

Abby breathed deeply. Hoagie Sr. had been a pilot in the Air Force and sometimes smuggled food into starving nations under orders. She knew that he'd written his family every day that he was away. She knew that the letters had stopped after Hoagie Jr. had turned ten. She also knew that the MIA report sent to them a year later had started one of the worst phases her best friend had gone through.

"They found him buried in some little village. Fever, they said. They dug him up and flew him home." He chuckled bitterly. "I don't know if I'm relieved or pissed."

"Combination of both?" she winced at the sound of her voice; broken and dry. He nodded in agreement. He slid out of the swing and onto the ground. Dust swirled into the air and settled in his hair as he pulled his knees to his chest. He wrapped both arms around his legs, resting a trembling chin on his kneecaps. A solitary tear escaped. He closed his eyes painfully as Abby joined him in the dirt.

She slipped an arm around his back and drug gentle circles into his shirt with her thumb. He leant into her softly, head on her shoulder and her cheek pressed to his auburn hair.

"I buried the goggles," he murmured. She paused and bit her lip. He shuddered and a few more tears slipped. She could feel them soak into her shirt.

In that moment, she knew. She knew that his precious eyewear was cradled in a shoebox. Probably underneath the oak tree in his backyard. She wondered if the box was sealed with tape or if he didn't care about dirt getting inside. The thought left a bitter sting in the back of her throat. It tasted like growing up too fast.

You know what today is? Exactly two years ago, I submitted my first KND fic. It dealt with Hoagie Sr. as well. (Please don't read it; It was awful.) This is my 50th story. Two milestones, one very OOC fic.
I apologize for the upsurge of serious!fics. I've been writing a lot of them, it seems. (Not so much posting them...) I don't know what's gotten into me lately. It can't be the movies I've been watching recently. -kicks
Titanic aside- Stupid Rose shoulda moved her dumb butt over. Woulda been plenty of room. -grumblegrumble-

Review what I dare call an anniversary fic?

Love always,