Title: Hope for A Better Tomorrow

Author: Soleil

Summary: Set in the same universe as the other Ellie fics. Just a little farther down the road. Pure fluff. Because it's nice.

The wind slips around the corners of their house, knocking at the windows and easing through the cracks in whispery sighs. The moon is gone and the stars have disappeared, tucked behind a blanket of clouds. Rain clings to the edges of the clouds, not yet letting go. But later that night, when the houses are dark and the street is quiet, the rain will relinquish its grip on the clouds and it will fall in thick bands and land heavily on the roofs. In the morning, when the wind begins to sweep the clouds from the sky, the lawns will be littered with leaves and the trees will be bare outlines against a fall blue sky.

She'll take her daughters out when the leaves and grass dry. She'll bundle them in heavy coats and thick knit hats and watch as her oldest daughter crunches through the leaves. Planes will leave vapor trails and Ellie will point, because her father always points when they fly overhead, and laugh. Katie, too young to understand anything other than the sun on her face and the soft cotton blanket under her fingers, will stretch and sigh in the honey yellow light. And she'll smile, her fingers brushing over her baby's cheek, as she watches her other daughter in the yard.

When the girls are older, they will rake the leave into piles and let the girls jump in them. The leaves will splash through the air in bright colored arcs and their daughters will laugh as they jump into piles bigger than they are. But those days are far away, far from this almost rainy, cold night, and she doesn't want to wish time away.

She tucks a blanket around her feet and listens to the song drifting through the baby monitor. She can hear blankets rustling and the sound makes her smile. Bed springs release as his weight shifts and he stands up. The song stops and the monitor is quiet.

His steps are heavy on the treads and she watches the doorway, waiting for his silhouette in the doorway. "The girls are asleep," he tells her as he enters the family room.

"How many songs did it take tonight?" She smiles as she shifts on the couch. She leans forward so he can ease in behind her and readjusts the blanket to cover his lap.

"Two." He shrugs. She remains quiet. "Okay, three. But I refuse to believe that 'Baby Beluga' counts."

She laughs and pats his knee. "They'll out grow it," she consoles him. "Not for many, many years, of course, and once El does, Katie might still like it."

He groans and drops his head onto the back of the couch. His hand covers his eyes and the muscles along his jaw relax.

"Tired?" she murmurs.

"Long week," he mumbles from under his hand. "Busy." He lifts his fingers a little and peeks out at her. "I'm glad to be home."

Her thumb runs along his jaw. "We missed you around here." She snorted softly. "It was quiet."

"Somehow I find that hard to believe."

"That we missed you or that it was quiet?"

He pokes her in the side and she curls her fingers around his. "Hey!" she cries when he jabs her again. "Okay, it wasn't quiet." She tucks her head in the space between his shoulder and his chin. "But we did miss you."

"I'd rather have been here." He says as he kisses the top of her head. Her arm drapes across his stomach and his fingers circle her wrist and slide over her palm.

"Was it bad?"

He shrugs and she can feel the slow glide of his muscles beneath his shirt. "I had a bad case. Bad facts, bad witnesses."

"It happens." She pats his chest and moves her legs until her knees bump his legs.

"I know." He lets the words out on a long breath.

"But still," she says.

"But still," he agrees.

"Rain's starting." The first drops splatter on the windows and the wind is a little stronger. A car's headlights flash briefly in the dining room windows as it turns onto the street. His chin drags over her hair as he turns to look out the window. The car is gone and the street is dark again. Over the monitor, he hears his daughters' soft, even breaths. El's new bedsprings squeak a little as she turns and the monitors are silent again.

She kisses the soft skin beneath his chin and rests her head against his chest. "Good night to be in," he murmurs into her hair.

"Mmhmm," she agrees on sigh. "It's nice."

"It is." She pulls the blanket over her shoulders and glances at the baby monitor. Their family room is bright and warm and their daughters are tucked safely in bed. The sun will be out tomorrow. The weatherman predicted a beautiful fall day. Full of sunshine and promise.