A startled chirping from behind the couch greeted Hannah as the door to her apartment hissed open, and the leet scrambled back into the ventilation shaft in panic. The living room was empty of life once more until she entered, leaving behind a trail of scattered sand on the floor. Right inside the doorway she paused, looking around. Everything was more or less as she had left it, so long ago.

She had recently peeked in just to see of there was anything rotting, but the only dead things had been her abandoned potted plants which she had thrown out before leaving once again. And then there had been the living things; the family of leets that had moved into the ventilation in her absence. She had been pleased to note that they weren't doing much harm to her furniture, and that they seemed unable to get into her bedroom where she stored her few important things in her while she was gone, so she had let them stay.

Without the context of safety, a home is nothing but a prison. A tomb with angry ghosts trapped in the walls, screaming accusations whenever silence falls. Bad memories can turn a room once cosy and intimate into something cramped and frightening. Suffocating.

But there were the Christmas trees, somehow still spreading a light piney scent which almost got lost in the smell of dust and barely used furniture. There were the coloured lamps, the paintings. Standing completely still she listened, waiting for the walls to speak, listening for the usual accusing voices from the ghosts of another life.

The faint echoing cooing of a leet from somewhere up near the ceiling, and she smiled, relaxing again. The only voices she could hear was the memories of laughter, chuckling. As disembodied as voices from a radio full of static, just occasionally cutting through, yet warm and safe. Not the usual angry or fearful voices she heard as soon as there was silence around her.

Carefully she slipped down in the armchair by the door, her fingers brushing though her tousled hair, tangled up in her antlers, full of sand from the sandstorm she had walked through on her way back from West Athen. She had barely noticed it; her hands had been idly folding a piece of paper, her thoughts had remained in The Cup with Tim and Cord. Wayne and Fya too, despite them having left before she did.

No sandstorm had been able to cut into those thoughts as she wandered back to an Old Athen waiting safe behind its walls. Walking the road she had walked once with Wayne weeks earlier when he was teaching her about friendship and working together. Her eyes had been half closed to the wind now when she walked the same path again, on her own yet not feeling alone. No sound could be heard above the wind, yet even out on the bridge over the river she felt almost safe, walking in memory, sheltered by laughter. It kept her warm until she came in behind the walls and left the storm behind, nodding her head to the Vanguards in greeting as she made her way past.

Her right hand slipped back into her chest pocket, pulling out another piece of paper as she leaned back into the armchair. The armchair was stiff, not used to her and unwilling to conform to the shape of her body, but none of this mattered to her as her fingers began to fold the paper in her hands. After a day of cranes she temporarily wondered if she would have forgotten how to make a tiger, but her hands still remembered. No longer did she pull out the first paper tiger to judge the new ones against it. Instead she kept it safe in its metal case in her chest pocket, hidden in behind the handkerchief and wad of neatly cut square paper sheets. Safe near her heart.

The finished tiger was put on the table in front of her and she looked at it with pride. Never would she get tired of it, being able to create something beautiful with her own hands. She had never been able to do that before. How amazed had she not been even through her pain when she had seen the beautiful tiger Cord had made with his hands? She had been confused but hopeful when she had been given it. How sad had she not been when it had been accidentally mangled. She had asked him if he could fix it, make it whole again, and he had given her something much better. Patiently showing her how to make her own. It had taken her a few days to realise how much better a gift it was, but now, watching the tiger look back up at her from the table, watching something beautiful she had created with her own hands...

Laughter. Smiles. Fya and Tim cuddled up in the couch in The Cup, looking so very happy together. Hannah had watched them, feeling truly happy for them, realising that their happiness mattered to her. Wayne being Wayne; silly but obviously caring Wayne. Silly, but far from stupid, no matter what some might be saying about him. Hannah was amazed by how easy her smiles were around him. Fun. He was fun, and for so long there had been nothing fun about her life. There was something to be admired about a man who would dress in pink hotpants and a pink dragon top, showing up with a grin on his face. Showing that even silly fun had a part in a life worth living, and she drank it all up as if she had been a desert finally getting a good rainstorm.

Hannah wrapped her arms around her shoulders, closing her eyes, thinking about the hug he had given her before leaving. She had felt slightly conflicted, especially when he had mentioned usually getting hugs from someone else. Feeling she was just a stand-in for someone else who he would rather hug – someone just currently too busy – but even if she wouldn't admit it to anyone she really needed a hug too. Being a stand-in was better than being no one worth hugging at all, was it not?

So she had hugged him. If he had been anyone else, she would not have, but he was Wayne; silly Wayne, dressed in silly clothes, so utterly non-threatening that it was almost heartbreaking, and she really needed a hug. Arms around her. An unexpected whisper in her ear; a short “I'm proud of ya,” and suddenly she no longer felt like a stand-in for anyone at all. Just a Hannah, in the present, being hugged by someone who mattered to her, whose opinion mattered to her, biting back her tears as she whispered back her thanks.

Sitting back down, almost in a haze, tapping her fingers to her knees in thought, she had realised two things as she listened to Cord and Tim speak. First of all, feeling sleepy and actually being relaxed enough to notice it it despite being in a room with other people. And the second..?

She had taken her leave, walking out into the sandstorm, lost in thought, finding a smile still on her lips, refusing to fade. She had returned to her apartment, hesitating just for a moment outside her door. Expecting to find her tomb waiting, but there was something hesitant in the air. Silence, cut up by memories of laughter. Leaning forward, she watched the paper tiger on the table for a moment before tenderly picking it up in her hands, blinking at it in the way she thought friendly cats would do to one another.

A tender smile on her lips as she sat down on her heels in front of the door, hesitantly placing the paper tiger by the wall beside it. The tiger was still, unmoving, and she leaned in closer to it.
“You guard that door, please?” Her voice was quiet, but clear. “I'd feel better knowing someone was. Will you do this for me?”
The tiger did not answer, just kept staring at the door; a silent sentry. Hannah looked at it for a moment, feeling slightly silly for having talked to it at all... then she remembered Wayne in his dashing pink outfit and a laugh spilled over her lips as she shook her head, standing back up.

Sleepy. She was feeling so sleepy, and she dimmed the lights as she set off to her bedroom. It took her a moment to find the key to her bedroom door, but then she walked into the dark room, not locking it behind her as she usually did, not even turning on the lights. The radio was still there, slowly blinking the time. The strange painting over the small couch she used as a bed, barely visible. The soft, red carpet covering half of the floor. With a yawn she slipped out of her jacket, dropping it on the carpet as she sat down in the couch, loosening her tie. After a moment she took off her shoes as well, placing them by the door before curling up on the couch, pulling up a blanket around her.

She listened to the silence around her, still cut up by laughter. By voices speaking softly. Voices from just an hour ago, voices from a bit further back. Tim and Fya talking about marriage. Wayne talking about things that he had built that had exploded. The man she had met at the grid terminal earlier, chatted with a bit. He had said that he liked being trusted; she had said that she hoped to one day be trusted again. Being someone she felt could be trusted.

Laughter, in the dark. Wayne's voice whispering that he was proud of her. She knew she was grinning; she could feel her teeth to her lips as she closed her eyes.

What was a home? Cord asked her that, that time they met before he taught her origami. What did she say? She should remember that. She rolled over on her back, opening her eyes to a darkness that felt warm and safe, and not at all threatening.

A home is a home. When one finds one one knows, and when one leaves, it remains in one's heart and one keeps going back to it, because it's a place one feels one needs to be? A safe place, somewhere one wants to be?

Yet, a home is in the people there. A home is more than walls. A home is a home, whether it has walls like an apartment, or it is an open campfire in the woods.

Closing her eyes again, Hannah felt tears rise in her eyes. Not painful tears, but tears of joy and relief. She still heard the laughter, and she felt safe.

The second thing she had realised, back there in The Cup?

She had people to return to. People she felt like she wanted to be with.

She had a home.