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Coming Home


by acorna12

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The small thump coming from the downstairs kitchen was what woke Sandra from her restless slumber. The Orange Kougra sat bolt upright, glancing across the room to find her sister, Cory, still asleep - wasn't her then. Her ears swivelled as she tried to detect the noise again; just as she thought she'd imagined it she heard light footsteps and taking a deep breath got out of bed and slowly crept out into the dark hallway of the Neohome.

     Sandra could immediately tell something was wrong, she could still hear the footsteps but there was no light coming from the staircase that led downstairs. If it were one of her siblings they wouldn't care if they were caught sneaking a midnight snack which could only mean her worst fears were confirmed - there was an intruder. Her eyes briefly darted over to the door of the nursery in a panic; her baby siblings were in there. From the looks of it she was still the only one who had heard anything so taking a deep breath to calm her nerves she focused and used the ability a kind Air Faerie had gifted her many moons ago to turn invisible. Slowly she began to creep down the stairs.

     Sandra's heart hammered the closer she got to the bottom of the stairs, not knowing what she would be faced with. The Pant Devil? Dr. Sloth? A hoard of angry Meepits? She'd told Ana not to pester them at the Petpet Shop, but she'd been so insistent on booping their noses!

     Peeking around the corner Sandra saw a figure dressed in all black with a cloak thrown over their body, the only thing visible being their eyes. Sandra pressed against the wall out of view and mentally calculated her strategy. Whoever it was very short and thin, meaning she could easily tackle them to the ground and keep them there as one of her siblings went to get the Defenders of Neopia. She could do this. She needed to protect her family, especially since...

     Anger bloomed within Sandra and she pounced forward, catching the intruder off guard since from their point of view they'd been tackled by thin air. The two crashed to the kitchen floor and Sandra rematerialized, staring down at the intruder who had their eyes squeezed shut and was whimpering in fright.

     "Who are you?" Sandra demanded. "Answer me!"

     The intruder said nothing but Sandra noticed a shift in their body language, it seemed the intruder had... calmed somewhat? But that made no sense, why would an intruder be calm at being caught? Unless...

     Unless it wasn't an intruder at all? No, that was impossible. Sandra had given up hope years ago, it couldn't be...

     But Sandra's suspicions were confirmed when the Neopian she had pinned opened their eyes. Their distinct grey eyes with the green tint. Sandra's lower lip trembled as she stepped back, a flurry of emotions washing through her as the intruder - no, her owner - shakily stood and pulled the hood of their cloak down.

     "Steph? Is that... really you?"

     ---

     Twenty minutes later Neopet and the owner sat opposite sides of each other at the kitchen table, a fresh cup of borovan in front of them both. Neither of them had spoken since Steph had asked Sandra if she wanted some and Sandra had numbly agreed. The tension in the air was thick - Steph holding their cup of borovan tightly and Sandra still reeling from the absolute shock that her owner was here.

     "I... don't expect you to forgive me," Steph finally mumbled out, not looking their pet in the eye. "And I can't say I can explain things either. But... I'll answer any questions you have for me."

     "Okay," Sandra replied, her voice clipped. "Where on Neopia were you? Why did you abandon us for years without so much as a warning? Do you have any idea how worried we were about you?" Sandra stared down at the floor, desperately trying to keep her emotions in check. "Ana thinks you're on a long trip, we didn't know what to tell her. I don't know if the babies remember you. Sally and Charley weren't surprised since you've done this to them before." Her voice wobbled. "I tried to keep hope as long as I could but..."

     "I'm sorry," Steph apologized, their voice low. "I had things to take care of where I come from. I didn't mean to be gone so long but I wasn't sure how to come back..."

     Sandra took that moment to really look at her owner, no longer a carefree child or na├»ve teenager. In front of her was an adult whose eyes showed a world of wisdom, things Sandra wasn't sure she could understand despite her wealth of knowledge. Steph continued, "I can't promise I'll always be here but I promise to never leave you for that long again. I understand you're angry and your trust in me is gone and I'm not expecting forgiveness. But I hope that one day... you can see me as a friend at least."

     Sandra's stomach twisted. She'd played this scenario over in her head dozens of times where she'd let the years of pent-up anger out and make it known just how hurt she and her siblings were. She wanted Steph to feel like a pile of dung left at the rubbish dump. But her anger had deflated at just how sad Steph looked, glancing around their old Neohome.

     She couldn't do it. She couldn't stay mad at them. Hesitantly Sandra reached a paw across the table to touch Steph's hand and by the way Steph jumped they clearly weren't expecting it.

     "...It's going to take a long time for me to trust you again," Sandra started, looking Steph in the eyes. "But... if you're really serious and those results are clear... you know that I'm always your daughter."

     The tears Steph was holding back spilled from their eyes causing Sandra to finally break down crying as well. For a moment the only sound was the muffled sobs of parent and child finally reuniting until Sandra finally wiped her eyes and took a breath to compose herself. "We... kept your room just the way it was in case you came back. I'll... tell the others in the morning if you're comfortable with that."

     Steph wiped their eyes and paused, considering. "It's probably better coming from you than me," they agreed. "I... don't know how Sally and Charley will react. The truth was I was planning on surprising all of you tomorrow morning but I think it might be better this way. You were always the one everyone came to for answers." They stood up from their chair and gave a small smile to Sandra, a smile that Sandra realized hadn't changed at all. "I'll go to the Bank after you're siblings know," Steph said. "And I'll visit the Safety Deposit Box to see if there's anything we can sell for some extra Neopoints. I'll also make sure to pay the Games Room a visit, I'm sure I'm better at those games now-"

     Steph was cut off by Sandra getting up and gently placing a paw over her owner's mouth. "That's not necessary for tomorrow. Tomorrow... I just want to spend time with you again. Me and everyone. We can worry about saving up Neopoints later."

     Steph opened their mouth to argue but shut it again - Sandra had a point. Instead, Steph brought Sandra into a hug and while Sandra wasn't expecting it she gladly returned the embrace, feeling the tears returning once again.

     "I missed you." Steph mumbled into Sandra's shoulder.

     "I missed you too," Sandra whispered back, pushing down her anxiety that when she woke up in the morning Steph wouldn't be there. But there was something in her owners' demeanour that said they were fully serious - they were here to stay. And Sandra chose to trust that instinct when she whispered two more words to her owner to cement her return.

     "Welcome home."

     The End.

 
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