A/N: IT FEELS GOOD TO BE BACK! I have been DYING to get back into the SpongeBob fandom lately, the short Plankaren fics haven't been doing it for me, so it felt really nice to just dive back into Bikini Bottom. This will probably have a continuation, enjoy!


If you haven't spoken in a year, is it still a friendship?

At this point, even Sandy wasn't sure.

Fireflies, so small and insignificant for the daylight glow they emitted in the oily night canvas, buzzed and flickered with lazy, summertime sleepiness in Sandy's dome, larger than they could fathom. One bug, tinier than its counterparts, blew a whistling light brighter than the rest, and floated like an unsteady drone before Sandy and her monstrous dome, as if to ask the slumped-over squirrel what had caused her posture. The idea nearly lifted Sandy's' face to smile; at least someone cared.

"Hey, little critter," Sandy cooed. She reached out her finger for the insect to land on, and after bumping its head against her fur to inspect, it landed tentatively and shyly on the tip, and rested comfortably in what appeared to be a sleep. If only it was that easy.

Sandy's back, already hunched against the solid, scratched yet soothing bark of her tree, slid farther down, making a neat ninety-degree angle out of her body. SpongeBob's voice, his old voice, of course, reprimanded in a harsh yet sweet, demanding way her poor posture. Her spine straightened, paused, slumped, arched, groaned, and gave out against the lukewarm, damp grass.

Before Sandy could even give her new friend a name, it lit up once more in a kind farewell, and flew off Sandy's finger to join its dozens of brothers flitting and flying among their world under a world away from a world. The world Sandy had taken them from, the world she had fled from, the world she hid from.

Her dome always took on a certain peaceful tranquility at nighttime, especially in Bikini Bottom summers, where the water reached temperatures she raced to document and the sand boiled her friend's feet. Her dome's glass was always boiling to the touch during these months, yet it was preferable to the frore wasteland on the other half of the year, when she hibernated and missed the daily nuances and occurrences of her family: Patrick's rock collection she secretly enjoyed, Squidward's complaints she attempted to sooth, Mr. Krabs' checkbook questions, and Gary's restless requests for a playmate. Yes, no matter the weather outside or inside her glass house, she enjoyed summer.

Wet grass ticked her back and arms like a playful friend. The refreshing, tangy scent rushed forward with every flop or pat of her hand, and she breathed it in, slower and longer each time, as if she could drag time to a halt until it obeyed her commands.

"Listen to me, I'm actin' like a city kid that wants to go to the rodeo."

The longing, the wistful, pitiable longing, should have dispersed into the seawater by now. It had been a year. In her land-culture, that could have been considered an appropriate amount of time to grieve her loss. This was pathetic. Yet the idea of picking herself up, moving on, and acting her age and maturity repulsed her, so she dispelled the thought until mourning replaced its void.

"SANDY SANDY SANDY!"

"Come in, Patrick."

Patrick had quickly grown restless after SpongeBob's drawn-out, plunging absences became frequent, and he longed for someone to fill the square hole in his schedule, mind, and heart. Squidward was a poor replacement for anything sentimental, besides, the octopus had grown even drearier in recent months. After finding Larry had gone on a sixteen-month training intensive, Sandy was his next illogical choice.

The familiar, coarse twisting of her steel door brought a sweet recollection of memories to the squirrel's muddled thoughts, and Patrick wobbled in, thankfully with his helmet this time. Sandy's shoulders slumped once more against her tree, knowing she wouldn't have to rush to save her friend's lungs again. "What's up, Pat?" Her throat burned. How long had she gone without talking at a decent volume?

Even before Patrick replied, Sandy had time to brace herself. He was off. A strange, sober film laced over his gaze, his shoulders hung low as though he held weights in each fist, and a peculiar quality of leadership and decision set in his defiant jaw. He looked somewhat like a toddler ready to demand one more cookie.

"I think we should go talk to SpongeBob."

It Sandy had ever considered chopping Patrick's head clean off, now would have been the time to enact that idea.

"No," Sandy answered. Blunt and unreasonable. Firm and unquestioning. Just like she had always been.

"What are these tiny lanterns?" Patrick swatted at one of the glowing, floating orbs, as they appeared to him, and Sandy rolled her eyes at his lack of attention span. His oblivious nature could be either annoying, amusing, or tolerable.

Quietly, with a drawn-out lull choking her throat, Sandy answered, "They're fireflies, Pat. I got 'em from Texas." Her eyelids fell over, and if Patrick hadn't been there, she would have let sleep drape its warm arms over her form and fallen into dreamland, where science, courtesy, and logic stepped aside for imagination, whim, and fun.

"Oh, to fill the void."

Honestly, his intellect connected the wires and flipped the switches at the worst possible times.

Sandy's eyes shot open and left a burning, aching itch of exhaustion behind. Patrick stared right back, patiently awaiting her reasonable rebuttal. She straightened up and battled back a yawn, as if her insides weren't flicking every switch on repeatedly for reasons to ignore him, reasons she knew she had but just…couldn't think of.

"There's no void to fill. SpongeBob made his choices, and I made mine. So did you. That's why y'all are here, that's why I have fireflies, and that's why the sea is wet." How tired was she to make such an explanation? After all, it could only be her lack of sleep. Which was also because of her own choice.

"I didn't understand any of that, but I…I think if we talk to SpongeBob, he'll listen. We're his best friends. Even Squidward is coming."

Sandy's jaw convulsed until it hurt. Who were they to think they could just…fix everything?

Standing up to distract her burning blood, Sandy sucked in a breath of air until she could feel her lungs vibrate.

Slick venom coated her teeth as she turned back to Patrick. He looked scared. "What, y'all are gonna give SpongeBob a big ol' intervention to convince him to come home weekends, close up before sunrise, and remember our names without flipping through that idiotic address book?" Sandy's hands balled in bobbing fists at her side. Her head stung tacks down her neck. Her vision sat skewed in her head and tinted everything with blood. She focused her burning glare on Patrick, jaw twisting as her spine arched against the rough bark of her tree. "He chose what he chose, Patrick. Ya gotta realize he don't want us no more."

The water level in Patrick's helmet rose and Sandy didn't want to know why. "No! SpongeBob loves us, he's still my best friend!" Only as the fireflies' dimming light glinted against a ring on Patrick's hand did she realize he still wore their token of friendship.

Sandy picked up a twig and snapped it into millions of brittle pieces against the invincible tree trunk. "He stopped being your best friend a year ago!"

"No, he didn't! He's my best friend, and I'm his! A-and we promised to always…to always look out for each other!" Sandy was beginning to get concerned about the smoke emitting from Patrick's head.

A rock rolled down Sandy's throat as she swallowed. "I ain't got nothin' to say to the two-timer."

"You miss him."

"I don't miss him." What she felt couldn't be called 'missing' anymore. Hurtling his picture at the wall until it shattered, spray-painting the Krusty Krab Two at night, and writing lists of all the reasons she didn't love him anymore, in any capacity, were only examples that she had lost her mind and hated SpongeBob. It wasn't sweet, honey-flavored wistful longing. She had gotten over that.

This was grief.

"You still miss him! Don't you want to at least see him?"

No. That was the last thing she wanted.

"Never, I got nothin' to say to him."

"Liar liar, pants on fire!"

"Shut up!"

Was this what isolation had reduced her intellect to? Fighting with Patrick and using 'shut up' as an argument?

Pitiable.

"Well," Sputtering, Patrick struggled to form a cohesive argument, balling his hands into fists as his already overheating mind grasped at what wasn't on fire. "I'm going! You can sit with your lanterns, but me and Squidward are getting our best friend back whether you like it or not!"

With no real argument to make and no heart to do it, Sandy watched as her friend stomped on the damp grass, spun the wheel, and sent a ripped through the ground as he yanked the door shut behind him. A moment later he walked back to Conch Street, and Sandy's eyes stuck to his figure until he had passed over the ebony horizon.

Childish, foolish, idiotic.

Hopeful, persistent, brave.

Sandy walked right back to where she had sat, her feet padding the grass, no longer wet with a wet summer scent, but dry like the desert. Her back curved against the roots of her tree and her head clunked against the trunk. She didn't have the strength to react.

The ghosts of her past still haunted her.

A warm ghost, transparent like the thinnest cloth in a grandmother's home, grew in, particle by particle, into Sandy's cracked and crumbling vision. She couldn't distinguish through the salt and water and tears draping over her eyes what her haywire mind forced upon her.

"SpongeBob!" She smiles. She smiles without a care. She smiles like a fool.

When had her shoulders begun to tremble? They had to stop, she had to sit still.

The door shuts and sends a rolling rumble through the treedome. "Hey, Sandy, I can only stay for two minutes, I've gotta get back to the Krusty Krab Two before they rip it apart."

More particles, more glowing orbs, more fuzzy nightmares gather into one more evil mass. A thin figure, with hazel covering most of her form – when had she distinguished it as a she? – and purple spotting the image. What chemicals had she inhaled earlier, it had to stop!

"Well, I'm glad y'all can stay, just the same." She says this even as her fists clench by her side. She is a liar, but that doesn't matter, because the one she loves is here, no matter for how long. He sits across from her at the picnic table. It creaks, it has forgotten the weight of two people.

Was she asleep? Was Patrick a dream? The fireflies? When had she gotten them again? If she was asleep, how did she wake up? Did she have to? She had to see where this went.

Silence rains down in a gentle mist. "So, how's work going?" She needs to fill the void, so she talks. He doesn't answer, so she rattles on with nonsense, nonsense that he would have loved and should have understood because he is him and he was always one for nonsense.

His watch beeps. He stands up. Disappointment, anger, childish feelings swells in her chest and she wants them to go away. "Oh, I've gotta go."

"Just like that?" This time, she doesn't bother to hide it.

Maybe she isn't asleep. Sleeping people don't feel tears rolling off their cheeks.

"What?"

Tears stream down, and she rubs furiously at them as her heart clings to her ribcage. "You and that stupid restaurant! It's always that, when are you gonna take a lousy vacation?!" Her eyes burn and his flicker. Does he understand? Has she finally gotten through to him?

The light is gone. Like a candle, no fanfare or explosion, it simply vanishes into the atmosphere, and he begins to walk off towards the horizon. "When Krabs learns to cook a decent meal so I don't have to cook for two restaurants and manage one, I'll take a day off."

"DANGIT, SPONGEBOB!" She slams her fists on the ground and sends an awful, rickety sound, like a home collapsing, through the dome. He turns back around. "What about us? Patrick, Squidward, Gary? What about me?"

He pauses.

Was this it? Was this the happy ending?

Without a word, he walks out. She does not see him again.

The ghost dispersed into millions and millions of fireflies, spreading themselves out into an army until sleep finally slapped Sandy in the back of the head.

#

The next day…

She was an idiot.

After a tedious investigation, Sandy had determined the summer heat she normally recalled so fondly had given her a nice bout of heat exhaustion, complimented by lack of sleep and stress. The night had dragged temperature of the ocean considerably by morning, and after waking up, Sandy cooled down and took a long nap.

The sleep brought a new clarity with replenished health, and almost immediately, she wondered if Patrick had been successful in his intervention with SpongeBob. No one had come running with news, but the simplest conclusion refused to come together in her mind.

Now, she was going herself.

Maybe it was stupid, maybe it was idiotic, and maybe she would regret it. She hadn't seen him in a year, apart from his slumped-over form sleep-walking home the nights she stayed up with the sweet comfort of TV.

If only she had forgotten the way there.

Unfortunately, Sandy's memory was too good for that, and her muscles relished in getting to exercise the pattern's they had remembered so fondly. Sandy had no choice but to walk along the repaved walkway, noticing the unsettling differences in her trek. They were uncommon and small, yet just enough to send her bravery crawling.

Plankton had gone out of business quite gracefully after getting out of jail. Turns out, selling chum to the jailhouse for years had built him up a relatively nice savings account, and he and Karen went gambling for a weekend, coming back practical millionaires. Most, including herself, had boarded up their doors for eventual and certain apocalypse, but nothing came except ten weeks of noisy renovations.

Now, the Chum Bucket's front was more or less obsolete. A cottage-like home clung to the back of the bucket, and Karen's garden curved around the center. Sandy had spent a few days in the laboratory with Plankton to pass the time, as he occasionally used it for recreation. When asked about the Secret Formula, Plankton said that if it ever rolled over to his side of the street, she better board up her doors again. Until then, he was enjoying semi-retirement in style.

Stupidly, Sandy was happy for the microscopic menace and his wife.

The Krusty Krab Original still stood, proud as ever, though not as busy as it had been in it previous life. It still brought in fantastic business and made a profit any businessman would drool over, but it no longer hustled and bustled like it used to. Sandy preferred to go into there to eat, it had more of a 50s diner feel, with nostalgia warming Krabs' stingy thermostat habits.

Mr. Krabs was repainting a sign on the window, and out of the corner of his eyestalk, spotted the squirrel. She offered a wave, and he joyfully returned it. With Pearl ready to go to college sooner than later the crustacean had loosened up a bit. Nothing to publish in the paper, but noticeable to his friends.

Her steps were too short.

How was she there already?

She should have stopped to talk to Mr. Krabs. Or Plankton. Or check with Patrick first.

The Krusty Krab 2 reminded Sandy of the one year she had attended Comic Con with Randy back on the surface: Rowdy, cramped, and exhilarating.

The entire restaurant was packed to its gills, swelling and sweating until some fishes decided to eat in the parking lot. Outdoor seating and a rooftop sports bar gave the entire restaurant a popping, trending atmosphere, and the characteristic flux of popularity had to be from SpongeBob's relentless advertisements. If nothing else, her best friend had turned into quite the business guru, and if he went home with her today, she would never let him live it down.

Despite her clunky suit and unique appearance, Sandy knew every corner of the restaurant and field, and it only took a minute to map out a road through the crowd so she could slip in, squeeze past fish with mumbling excuses, and knock firmly on SpongeBob's door.

Everyone in line was cramped and sweating, miserable and hot. Feigning emergencies, deafness, and lies Squidward would call tacky, Sandy reached the glass doors, so familiar she nearly thought she had accidentally walked into the original Krusty Krab.

The hustle-and-bustle on the inside changed that.

If everyone outside were angry parents trying to buy Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, the restaurant itself was Christmas morning. Relaxed, happy, and warm. Something in Sandy's chest loosened as she saw the laughing couples, running children, and vintage decorations lining the walls.

There was no cashier, customers merely typed their orders into a computer. If Sandy remembered correctly, SpongeBob had once said, "No one could operate a register like Squidward," and a computer was the only reasonable replacement. She had laughed at the time. Now she cringed inside her suit.

Her throat tightened as she neared the door to his office. Her stomach questioned everything it ate for breakfast. Her vision stepped out of her skull. She couldn't breathe.

She didn't bother to knock, and the door gave.

SpongeBob looked up at her, and Sandy could have sworn he muttered number eleven under his breath.

"S-Sandy?"

"Long time no see, Partner."

To be continued?