Once upon a time, long ago and far away from Washington, D.C., a little girl sat under a dark sky watching the stars above her head and made a wish. Hundreds of miles away, a boy, older in years but not experience, faced west, as if staring hard enough could make a whole continent appear on the horizon, and wished. With backwards glances at the structures behind them, lit from within to ward off the night, the boy and girl wished for a concept, for something they were both too young to understand except in its simplest forms.

The boy looked out at the dark ocean and asked for the family he once knew. The little girl wanted the family that she had always dreamed about. That night, after wishing and wishing, they would both go to bed, still hopeful that the stars had the power to bring them what they wanted. When they woke up the next morning and saw that everything was still the same, they would believe a little less, their hearts would be a little harder, and their dreams a little farther beyond their grasps.

For years, they would repeat this ritual until time and age made them give it up. They gave up wishing, because it only ever brought disappointment. And then one day, they met. Only in fairy tales, in bedtime stories that parents tell their children to protect them from the monsters that could still be warded off by nightlights and hope, would the boy and the girl, now a man and a woman, fall in love immediately. Only in fairy tales would they be able to fix each other quickly and not add to their lists of disappointments.

But this wasn't a fairy tale, it didn't resemble the bedtime stories parents murmured to sleepy children. And the man wasn't even allowed to tell the woman he loved her for another two weeks. It was frustrating because she hadn't set any rules for herself, only for him. When they hung up the phone at night, she whispered it as her good bye. She sneaked the words into their conversations and he wasn't allowed to say them back.

Which was worse, he wanted to know, suspecting he loved her when it was against the rules, or knowing he loved her and not being allowed to tell her? The effect was the same; he was stymied and he hated it. He hated her time line and he hated that he was still a little angry with her.

He was angry that she could have been so selfish. He didn't understand completely her reasons; he never would. But he understood that her pain had been too big for her to see around it, too big to see the alternatives. There were times when she grew silent and pulled away and he wanted to shake her. To tell her to open her eyes and see him standing in front of her.

But it was getting better. As she got better, the anger diminished. It hadn't disappeared, but it had lessened. And he knew, just as he knew that he loved her, that when she let them say the words, the little spark of anger would be extinguished, gone in a little puff of smoke and a soft sizzle.

On the night before Thanksgiving, a cold front slid down from the north on an icy wind and rain. She curled up on his couch, watching as he peeled sweet potatoes for tomorrow's dinner at Bud and Harriet's.

"Why did you volunteer to make those again?" She wrinkled her nose in distaste as she crossed the apartment.

"Because they're good for you," he said patiently. They'd had this conversation five or six times already.

"But they're orange," Mac said predictably. She eased onto a stool and watched the peels fall into a small pile on the cutting board.

He set the potato and peeler down and sighed. "You eat oranges and carrots," he pointed out.

"That's different." She waved a hand in front of her, brushing aside his comment.

"How?"

She grinned sheepishly. "I - uh - I like them?"

"You need to eat more vegetables," he said firmly, resisting the urge to tell her how ridiculous she was being.

"I do," she protested. "You make me."

He picked up the vegetable again. "It's only because I love you." The words slipped out of his mouth and hovered between them. His grip on the peeler tightened.

"Huh," she said on a shaky sigh. "I was wondering how long it would take before you said it."

He raised his head. "You told me I couldn't." The spark that had been smoldering flared. "What the-" He choked on the words. He wanted to ask why she had made him wait. If this was some sort of test he didn't know he was taking.

She raised a hand quickly, thumbing away tears before gesturing for him to stop. "No, no." She shook her head. "For once, I know what you're going to say and I swear I wasn't."

"You weren't what?"

"Playing a game or testing you."

"Then what was it?"

She shook her head again and blinked. "I don't know. Honestly? I thought I needed the time." She blew out a breath and studied the ceiling. "I needed to like me again before I could believe you could. But mostly? I was scared."

"Scared of what?"

"You know," she insisted.

"Of it all going badly?" At her nod, he said, "Me too."

She rounded the island and wrapped her arms around his waist, leaning her forehead between his shoulder blades. "I'm glad you didn't stick to the time line."

He patted her hands. "Me too," he repeated. Grabbing her forearm, he pulled her around until she stood in front of him. He cupped her face in his hands. "I do love you."

"I love you, too." She sniffled, nodding a little to emphasize her words.

He kissed her softly, moving a hand from her face to her neck.

"Harm," she said quietly when they pulled back. Her hand curled lightly over his wrist to keep him close.

"I know." He shushed her with his free hand.

She pulled the hand away from her mouth. "This doesn't fix everything with me."

"I know," he said. He wanted to ignore her statement, ignore the little hurt it caused, but he couldn't.

"But it makes it a lot better," she smiled.

He smiled back. "Good."

Maybe, one day, years from now, on a night like this one, when their children asked for a bedtime story, they would read them the fairy tales they didn't believe in. Or, maybe, they would tell them about a little boy and a little girl who made wishes and hoped they would come true. And maybe, on that rainy night, they could tell their children they had. Those were just maybes and, for now, it was just the two of them. And outside, the wind swirled and shook the windowpanes. It whistled around the corners of the building. The rain formed icy puddles and the storm drains choked and gurgled with water and leaves, but, inside, it was warm and dry and that was all that mattered.

~end~

A/N: Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who stuck by this fic and kept reading. I really appreciate the time and comments from you. Thanks again! Soleil