DISCLAIMER: Characters of Popular belong to someone who is taking their sweet time releasing the DVD's. And to satisfy my anal desire to bring everything full circle, the title of this fic is taken from another Dar Williams song.
SHOUTOUT: Props to Alex O'Neal for kicking ideas around with me all those months ago, much appreciation goes to JuneBug, my quick-like-a-bunny beta reader, and many thanks to Betsy, for patiently answering all my stupid questions.
SERIES: Fifth story in the 'An Ever Fixed Mark' series, following Here's Where I Stand, The Mercy of the Fallen, And So this is Christmas and An Ever Fixed Mark.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

You're Aging Well
By Green Quarter


Part 7

Sam quietly entered the house and began searching, a little bit nervous about what she might find. What she did find was Brooke in their bedroom, sitting on the floor with her back against the open closet door, holding a blue Adidas shoebox in her lap as she silently examined one of the many postcards Sam had sent to her when she had been off traveling, seeing the world. Sam remembered how Brooke had carefully removed the postcards from her refrigerator door in the apartment in New York and stowed them in the shoebox in preparation for their move cross-country years before.

"Whatcha doing?" Sam ventured.

Brooke held up a postcard that showed an aerial view of the Champs Elysees. "Paris. I've always wanted to go," she said, not looking up.

"Then we'll go," Sam said, moving closer.

"Did you like it?"

"Not really. I couldn't afford to stay in Paris itself, the youth hostels were all full, so I stayed in a dump out in Rouen and used my railpass to go into the city every day. I was by myself most of the time, and lonely, but I was determined to see all the museums and stuff. I lived on baguettes and nutella, never got to try the local cuisine. I still can't eat that hazelnut stuff. It's gross. And then there was that foreign language thing."

"I'm sorry, Sam." Brooke was still looking at the postcard, but Sam knew she wasn't referring to her miserable time in France.

"I know," Sam replied softly. She sat down on the floor in front of Brooke, placing her hands on Brooke's knees. "What are you doing, looking at these old things, anyway?"

Brooke looked up from the box of postcards and gazed at Sam. The skin around her eyes was puffy and had that tell-tale translucency that meant she had been crying, and Sam caught her breath as she felt the pain of sympathy tear through her.

Brooke didn't answer her question, but looked towards the window and began speaking. "Do you remember back when we lived in New York, the evening we went to Aquagrill on Spring Street? Somebody you worked with told you about it, and you wanted to try the warm octopus salad. I was meeting you there and I was late, as usual. After I came up from the subway, I called your cell phone and told you where I was, just a few blocks away, and that I would be there in a few minutes. You said not to worry, you were sitting at the bar and had ordered me a drink, you would be waiting.

"I remember so clearly walking along Spring, trying not to linger too long in front of any of the shop windows, when I looked ahead and saw you running toward me from two or three blocks away. Your eyes were searching the street for me, and I stopped walking and was suddenly very afraid. It felt like a large, cold hand was gripping my heart. I didn't know what could have happened in the two minutes that had elapsed since I had spoken to you.

"So I started to run, and my movement attracted your attention, and when you saw me, the expression on your face was transformed. We were running toward each other, and as we got closer, I could see that you were smiling the biggest smile I had ever seen. It made your eyes crinkle, and it was like a klieg light was shining in your face, you were so radiant. There was an aspect of elation written so plainly on your features, it almost hurt to look at you. It was the true you; I felt like you were showing your soul. And you were looking at me," Brooke said, like she couldn't quite believe it. "I was the one you had chosen to direct your gaze upon."

Sam remembered the day vividly. She remembered how close she had felt to Brooke that day and tried to scoot closer to Brooke now but their legs were in the way.

"You were breathing heavily when we stood before each other," Brooke continued. "I asked you what was the matter, and you got a little embarrassed when you confessed that you couldn't wait to see me, that the few minutes it would take for me to walk up the street were too unbearably long and you had to do something about it. You looked so beautiful. The light in your eyes was incandescent; at that moment the only two things that mattered in the whole world were you and me.

"Then it started to rain, in a way that it never seems to here. Do you remember? One of those late spring afternoon showers that sometimes happen in New York when the sun is still shining and the rain spills from the sky for only a few minutes. Drops the size of half-dollars darkened your shirt, and you turned us around and we hurried towards the restaurant, but we were getting drenched, so you pulled me into a doorway for a moment, and that look had reappeared on your face as you enveloped me in a kiss. And in that kiss something happened that I still can't really explain. It felt as if we were two halves of something broken that had finally been put back together, like a couple of shards of a ceramic plate, the jagged edges measuring up and fitting together seamlessly."

Brooke finally wrenched her gaze from the window and looked at Sam. She leaned forward and put her hand on Sam's cheek and smiled at the vividness of her memory. For a few minutes it seemed as if Brooke had actually gone to that doorway on Spring Street, so completely did the story she was telling inhabit her, but Sam saw that she had returned to their bedroom, and had resumed the telling from the here and now.

"You had left your jacket hanging on the back of the barstool, so I took off my coat and held it over both of our heads and we laughingly ran the rest of the way back to the restaurant, where our drinks were waiting for us at the bar. You had only been gone a few minutes, about the same amount of time it took to make a phone call, and no one was the wiser as to what had just occurred. I had lived a lifetime in those five minutes. Those five minutes are burned on my brain."

"I remember," Sam said, placing her own hand over Brooke's where it rested against her cheek, getting lost in Brooke's gaze. "I remember every second of it."

"That expression on your face? I don't see it very often, but I treasure it whenever I do." Brooke's smile became contemplative. "I see it on special occasions, like when we held hands and stepped over the threshold of our house together after the closing, and on the day we found out I was pregnant, but sometimes it sneaks up on me when I least expect it, like on a random Sunday morning when I wake to find you looking at me, or when I paddle back to the lineup after an awesome wave and you're sitting there on your board, impressed as hell with me. I feel an overwhelming sense of pride in myself when you look at me like that."

Then Brooke sighed. "So when I saw that same expression on your face when you were with that woman, it felt like something precious had been stolen from me. I thought that look on your face belonged only to me. I may not be able to lay claim to any other part of you, but I thought that was mine. But I don't even own that. I never wanted to capture you, or cage you, or keep you all to myself, I want you always to feel that you are free, but I can admit that I did want something of you that was mine alone. It's selfish, I know. And it's silly, too, wanting to possess the expression on someone's face. But it's just so you, you know?" she finished helplessly.

Sam could only guess at how hard it had been for Brooke to say this to her, to prostrate herself, to lay herself bare, before her. Maybe this could all be attributed to Brooke's chaotic, pregnancy-besieged hormones, maybe not. But Sam was not going to invalidate all that Brooke had said by casually pinning the blame there. She may make her living with words, but she didn't know how she was going to find the right ones to convey all that she needed to say. "Brooke, whatever you see when I look at you like that is only an outward expression of what I feel for you inside. I can't help but light up like a Christmas tree when I'm around you because ever since the day we met my heart races, my blood boils, emotion courses through me and my thoughts knock around my head like a pinball machine. That's what I felt when I was sixteen, when I pretended to hate you, and that's what I feel now, when I love you more than myself. And that is never going to change.

"You are the one that I need. I need to share my life with you. You're the one who knows me too well, the one who gives me support, and consistency, and constancy. You know what I need before I do. You make me aware of life happening around me, within me. And you're also the one who, occasionally, puts me through hell, which is good, and necessary, because it just crystallizes everything else that you are to me. And I want to be that for you. I hope that I am. I want to crowd you with love and be all the things that you are to me.

"I want to be possessed by you. What I feel when I'm with you is the antithesis of feeling caged or captured. It's only in knowing that we're together that I can feel free. So you can lay claim to every part of me, because you know what? Without you, there is no me. It's as simple as that. I would feel free with you even if I was, like, physically chained to your side. Like I was chattel or something. I wouldn't mind being your chattel." Sam raised an eyebrow at Brooke. "Does that sound as weird and twisted as I think it does?"

Brooke laughed, it was either that or cry, and she had done enough of that already today. "Yes. But oddly enough, I understand. I wouldn't mind being your chattel, either."

Brooke's laughter was just about the sweetest sound Sam could hear. She moved around so that she was sitting next to Brooke against the closet door, bumping against her with her hip to get her to move over. She laid her head on Brooke's shoulder, and Brooke slung her arm around Sam. It looked like things were going to be all right. "You heard about the book?"

"Yes. Congratulations." Brooke nodded, laying a kiss on Sam's head.

"That expression on my face you saw at the café? That was me ecstatic at the prospect of being able to give you whatever the hell your heart desires, within reason." Sam said. "I think that you'll at least be able to stay home with Junior if you want to. If what Sandy says is true."

"Sam, you didn't just do this for me, did you?"

"Well, literary vanity may have entered into it a little, and pure pigheadedness once all those doors started slamming obnoxiously in my face. Actually, it never got to the obnoxious door slamming stage, but rejection letters don't do much more than flutter around all judgmental and condescending, so that sounds better.

"But, yes, you were the main reason. You and our family." Sam stretched her hand over Brooke's belly. "In my delusions of adequacy, I wanted to be able to carry my weight financially, to be the winner of the bread. You know, money talks, and I hate to listen, but lately it's been screaming in my ear. And it was drowning out everything else. It kind of distracted me from what was more important: taking care of you physically, and emotionally. I'm sorry for that."

"Never mind," Brooke said. "Tell me about how it happened."

"I wanted it to be a surprise. But also if it didn't work out you didn't have to know about my failure," Sam said wryly, then continued. "When we started to get serious about having a kid, I started worrying about money and tried to think up ways to add to my income. I remembered that mom had thought my Annabella letters were good enough to publish, so I thought that might be a good place to start. I knew that no publisher would ever look at a bunch of letters, so I borrowed Mac's scrapbook and reread what I had written, building a narrative around them. That was the easy part. A few years and approximately nine thousand rejections later, Carmen told me about her publishing connection after I complained to her about it one night. Today I met Sandy, who thinks the story is pretty good, and now we shall see what we shall see."

"You could have complained to me," Brooke said gently.

"In hindsight, I so wish I had," Sam replied ruefully.

"So her name is Sandy?"

"Yup. Sandy Towers."

Brooke snickered. "Sounds like an apartment complex in Boca Raton."

"I was thinking Miami Beach, but yeah," Sam grinned.

They sat like that for a few minutes, just happy to have the drama of the day behind them. Then Sam felt Brooke's grip tighten around her shoulders.


"I can't believe I demanded that you move out," Brooke admitted, her voice shot through with mortification. "What if you just said, 'okay,' and packed up and left?"

"You're not getting rid of me that easily," Sam said lightly, although the memory of the argument frightened her.

"I'm so sorry, Sam." Brooke said again.

"It's okay, Brooke, but please, we have to keep talking and listening to each other. The fact that I love you will never be enough if we don't do the maintenance on this relationship." Sam was deadly serious.

"I know," Brooke was miserable. "Can you ever forgive me?"

"I've already forgiven you. But I do know how you can make it up to me," Sam said, impishly. She didn't want to be serious anymore. She finally wanted to begin celebrating her good fortune with Brooke. "You can start by telling me all the many and varied things you love about me."

Brooke felt a surge of happiness and relief at Sam's easy forgiveness. She felt like she had been buried in the sand up to the neck, trapped and immobilized by her suspicion and jealousy. But Sam had dug down and found one of her hands and had pulled her free. Brooke was going to see to it that this never happened again. Her body felt light with the buoyancy of joy, and it put her in a playful mood. "Okay, let's see. I love how you're secretly scared to pick up the cats."

"I am not!" Sam protested. "Where are they, I'll pick them up right now."

"And I love how you get all flustered when you can't parallel park correctly on the first try."

"Who can get those angles right on the first try?" Sam asked reasonably.

"I love how the entire city of Los Angeles knows about it when you wake up with a Charley Horse, with your pitiful cries of agony, from which only I can save you. And I love your stupid jokes about the neighbors, and your completely irrational hatred of cinnamon gum," Brooke continued the list, not bothering to hide her merriment.

"Hey, wait a minute, I thought this was supposed to be a flattering portrait," Sam objected.

"You wanted flattery? That doesn't come out until What I Love About Sam: Volume II. Volume I is all about the unvarnished truth." Brooke was really warming to her subject. "I love how you can still barely contain yourself when you see your by-line, you get all fizzy, like you chugged a liter of Pepsi and chased it with three envelopes of Pop Rocks."

"Well, it is a rush," Sam admitted, now resigned to her fate.

"I love how there is a dictionary in our kitchen now because you have to look up the meaning and etymology of the word 'Bouillabaisse.'"

"It's French, in case you were wondering," Sam interjected. "I'm making it after the baby's born."

"I especially love how you talk too much when we're knocking boots," Brooke said facetiously.

"It just wouldn't be the same without you telling me to shut up at least once when we're doing it," Sam returned, equally glib.

"And I love how you force me to watch all six hours of Pride and Prejudice at least once a year, and then get all weepy at the end, " Brooke paused, finally running out of steam.

"Are you finished?" Sam asked with a grin.

"For now," Brooke nodded. "Until I think of some more."

"I'm so sorry I asked."

"I'm not," Brooke pulled Sam to her and kissed her, trying to pour into it all the other things she loved about Sam, but were more difficult to put into words. She wrapped her arms around Sam's waist and slid her hands beneath the black silk shirt she wore. She could feel Sam's hands creep up her neck and twine themselves in her hair, as she fervently returned the kiss.

"Wow. That was nice," Sam said, when they separated. "Maybe we should continue this in a new location." She gestured towards the bed. At Brooke's nod, she got up and pulled Brooke to her feet. Sam kicked off her shoes and threw herself across the neatly made bed, lying on her side like she was a prize Brooke had won. "Welcome to bed, may I take your order?" she asked cheekily.

Brooke laughed. "You are such a ninny."

"But you love this ninny," Sam wiggled her eyebrows.

"Yes, I do, with all my heart," Brooke said as she lay down next to Sam, and started to unbutton Sam's shirt. Sam reciprocated and soon had access to all of Brooke's sensually pregnant body. The room was quiet for several minutes as the two of them got lost in the distraction of each other's flesh. Then, inevitably:

"Seriously, Brooke, who says 'knocking boots' anymore? That's so early nineties."


"I know, I know. This is the part when you tell me to shut it."

"No," Brooke corrected, planting her lips on Sam's quickly before saying, "it's the part when I tell you I love you."



Sam pulled into the driveway, turning off the CD player in the car. A high, slightly off-key voice could be heard from the back seat, singing into the abrupt silence, "Zachary Zugg took out the rug, and Jennifer Joy helped shake it…"

"We're home, Lucy," Sam smiled.

"What is it called, what I did today, Ma?" Lucy asked.

"A double. You were able to run all the way to second base, remember? Don't forget to tell Mommy, she'll be so excited to hear it." Sam helped Lucy out of the car, and carried her Whiffle Ball things into the house. She still couldn't believe that the new house was finished, even though they had moved in about six months before. Driving home, she had to consciously remember where to turn the car in order to get here.

Nobes was waiting in the foyer when they came in, looking like an annoyed parent waiting to take a curfew-breaking child to task.

"What's wrong with you?" Sam asked the cat.

"She missed me, Ma," Lucy said, falling to her knees in front of the cat, and crooning, "Didn't you, Nobesey, you missed me."

Nobes stalked off, still in a snit about something.

"Brooke?" Sam called out, her voice reverberating through the house.

"Mommy?" echoed Lucy.

No answer. Sam walked into the kitchen, Lucy trailing behind her, looking for a note or something to explain Brooke's absence. Nothing on the refrigerator. Sam looked out the windows absently, trying to recall if Brooke had told her where she was going. Then she saw her. The kitchen windows of their new Malibu home faced the beach and the ocean just beyond. Sam could see a blonde figure out in the water, sitting upright, and straddling a surfboard. The previous evening's storm had left the usually placid ocean where they now lived a churning cauldron of white water and waves, which Brooke was now taking advantage of.

"Look, Lucy, there's Mommy," Sam pointed out towards the beach.

"Where?" Lucy looked where Sam pointed but couldn't see over the deck railing. "I can't see," she whined, "pick me up."

Sam obliged, staggering slightly, and carefully positioned Lucy's leg so that it wouldn't kick her slightly protruding belly. She realized that in another couple of months she wouldn't be able to pick up Lucy at all. "See? That's her. She's going for a wave. Look, she's standing up. Isn't that cool?"

"Yeah," Lucy said, with awe sounding in her voice. "That's Mommy?"

"Yep," Sam said proudly. "You want to go out there?" She watched Lucy nod. "Well go put your bathing suit on, and get your pail and shovel." She put her daughter down, and watched her run off towards her room. Sam wouldn't change out of her shorts and top, she wasn't going in the water.

She wandered around the house, packing things into a white canvas beach bag to bring with them. If they really needed anything they could just come back inside to fetch it, but old beach-going habits die hard, and Sam had yet to really comprehend that she now lived right on the beach.

Looking around the large living room as she made her way back to the kitchen, Sam was struck again by the sheer size and spaciousness of the place. "The house that Annabella built," as Brooke jokingly referred to it. It was much too large for three people and two cats, but they knew that they would eventually fill it up. There was room to grow here.

Sam turned when she heard the clunking of plastic on the hardwood floor, and Lucy re-entered the room, ready to hit the beach with her sand toys dragging behind her. She was wearing a two-piece bathing suit; only the two pieces did not match. The top was purple and blue striped, and the bottom was yellow and red polka dots. Sam bit her cheek and tried not to laugh. "I like your suit, Luce. Did you do that on purpose?"

"No," Lucy glowered scornfully. "I couldn't find the purple bottoms."

"That's okay," Sam reassured her, "you look fine."

"I know."

Sam picked up the beach umbrella she had dragged out of the closet and said, "Well, let's go, then."

After Sam set up the umbrella and a blanket to sit on, they went down to the water's edge and sent Brooke an ESP message to look at them. After a few minutes, she did, and waved with her whole arm from where she sat out beyond where the waves were breaking. Sam and Lucy waved back, but then Lucy wanted to get down to the serious business of play.

She laboriously carried a pail of water back up to near the blanket and set to work, wetting the sand and creating several round objects. When Sam asked what they were, Lucy explained, "I'm making meatballs and pisgetti."

"I think you mean spaghetti," Sam gently said, with amusement.

"No," Lucy returned nonchalantly, "it's pisgetti."

"Okay," Sam smiled. Lucy should enjoy her creative spelling now; she wouldn't get away with it when she started playing Scrabble.

Sam sat Indian style under the shade of the umbrella a short distance away from Lucy and watched her, happy that the girl could not only keep herself occupied when she was by herself, but that she also had no problems getting along with her fellow teammates on her Pee Wee Whiffle Ball team down at the Y. She had felt a rush of pride and love this morning as she stood among all the dads and moms, and watched her daughter take the field. Lucy had turned a spontaneous, and very poorly executed, cartwheel on the way out to Third Base. Sam didn't usually take Lucy to Whiffle Ball, as Brooke took over most of the weekend tasks since her time with Lucy was limited during the workweek. But since she had hit her fifth month Sam was filled with an excess of energy in the mornings, so she volunteered to take Brooke's place, and gave Brooke a rare lie-in today.

Brooke had left Julian Cosmetics after giving birth, and had happily taken up the mantle of full time stay-at-home mom. For nearly three years, Brooke had stayed home with Lucy while Sam continued to juggle her journalism career with the Annabella books' increasing demands. Then it became obvious to Sam that because of her dual careers, she was missing key moments in Lucy's life, so she gave up on journalism and committed to fiction completely.

Brooke's replacement at Julian hadn't worked out very well, and Nicole had begged Brooke to come back, in any capacity she chose. Brooke agreed to return on the conditions of an abbreviated work schedule, and more flexible hours. Sam thought Brooke was secretly thrilled with the prospect of getting back into the workforce, and although she knew Brooke felt guilty for spending time away from Lucy, she had admitted to Sam that she really didn't miss Elmo and Snuffleupagus at all. And so, not minding the denizens of Sesame Street so much, Sam had taken over as Lucy's primary caregiver when Brooke went back to work. But they shared in everything, and their parenting style was fluid and flexible, each of them taking up the slack or letting go the reins when the situation called for it, and it had worked pretty well thus far.

After the success of the second book and the subsequent sale of the movie rights, they had never needed to worry about money again. Adults and children alike had embraced Annabella with a fervor not seen in children's publishing since a certain wizard with a scar on his forehead. Sam now had a large room that had a stunning view of the ocean where she wrote, and was currently working on the fourth book. She wrote desultorily, usually in the mornings for several hours while Lucy was at preschool, but the rest of the day was devoted to her daughter's care. Sam figured the world could wait a while for the next installment. Sam was excited for their next child to be born. Brooke was going on leave from Julian again and they would have no responsibilities except to their family for a while.

Sam had been approached for an autograph at Lucy's game today. It was beginning to happen more and more lately, ever since the movie adaptation of the first book had come out, and she had done some publicity for it as a favor to the producers. The book signings had gotten crazy enough. She didn't want to subject her family to that sort of intrusion on a regular basis, and was now debating the merits of becoming a literary recluse, in the style of J.D. Salinger.

"Ma?" Lucy had abandoned her toys and now stood in front of Sam, who tore herself from her reflections and looked at her daughter in inquiry. "Tell me a story?" she entreated, and plopped down in the cradle created by Sam's legs.

Sam reached over into the beach bag. "I have Max and I have Eloise, who do you want?" She asked, pulling out battered copies of Where the Wild Things Are and Eloise.

"No," Lucy said. " I want The Two Princesses."

"I want The Two Princesses, please," Sam corrected.

"I want The Two Princesses, please," Lucy dutifully repeated.

Sam looked at the little girl in exasperation. "You don't really want to hear that old story again, do you?"

"Yes, I do," Lucy insisted.

"Well, I guess I could do that," Sam considered. "But it'll cost you."

"How much?"

"Five kisses," Sam lowered her face so that Lucy could reach it, and together they counted out loud to five as the little girl smacked her lips against Sam's cheek.

"Oh, I think I overcharged you, I'll give you one kiss back as a refund," Sam said, and closed her arms around Lucy and engulfed her in a hug, connecting with her cheek with what turned out to be more of an overly wet raspberry than a kiss.

"Eww, Ma," Lucy complained, giggling, wiping her cheek with her hand, "you spit on me."

"Quit complaining," Sam replied. "There are kids in China whose parents never spit on them at all."

Sam maneuvered Lucy so that she reclined across her lap, with her head cradled in Sam's arm, like she was an extremely large, four-year-old infant. Sam noticed that her lap was becoming smaller, and soon Lucy would have to share her perch with Sam's growing tummy.

"Once upon a time, there was a king who lived in a palace," Sam began, "and he had no queen, but he did have a daughter, a fair princess, with pale skin and hair the color of the sun, who was very popular and well loved by all the king's subjects. And she loved her father, the king, very dearly, and for a long time they were happy in the palace.

"The king was a kind and benevolent ruler, and no one in his kingdom had any cause to complain, but he was lonely, and sometimes wished for the company of another.

"One day the king said, 'I am going on a journey,'" Sam deepened her voice and spoke in a gruff approximation of the king's voice, "and he left the care of the kingdom in his fair daughter's capable hands. She immediately threw an unsanctioned festival that was the talk of the court for years to come, although she neglected to invite all the king's horses and all the king's men, and some people were pretty upset about it. Anyway, the mead flowed like, well, mead, and the revelry lasted for several days. The court jester sang every madrigal he knew twice, and people's feet were really sore from dancing the minuet, which was the princess's favorite thing to do.

"When the king returned from his journey and found the princess and his subjects had been making merry with wine, women and song and had neglected their daily responsibilities, he was very displeased, but he couldn't be angry for very long because he wanted to introduce his fair daughter to someone.

"While he had been away, the king had found a cure for his loneliness in the form of a beautiful queen from a neighboring kingdom, who, conveniently, was without a king. The king and queen had decided to join their two kingdoms and live together and rule in all their infinite wisdom from the palace. Complicating matters somewhat was the presence of the queen's daughter, a princess also with pale skin but with hair the color of midnight. She was as darkly beautiful as the fair princess was fair."

Lucy reached up and took hold of a lock of Sam's hair, examining its dark color, so unlike her cap of sandy blonde curls.

"The palace was more than large enough to accommodate the newly formed royal family, but it seemed that it was not big enough for both of the princesses. They bickered and quarreled and complained about one another, and argued about everything from who got the big turkey leg at dinner to who slept in the largest bedchamber with all the best tapestries in the west tower. To say that they did not get along was like saying that Merlin knew a few card tricks.

"After awhile it became obvious that although the two princesses had no problems associating with anyone else, be they members of court or the lowliest of peasants, they just could not get along with each other. This saddened their parents, the king and queen, who had successfully joined two very different kingdoms without too many skirmishes breaking out, that they could not accomplish the much smaller task of getting their daughters to live harmoniously. Plus, it made living in the palace not so pleasant, what with all the shouting and broken crockery."

"What's crockery?" Lucy interrupted.

"It's another word for dishes," Sam replied.

"Oh," Lucy said. Sam could see that her eyelids were getting heavy, Whiffle Ball always made Lucy very tired.

"So, after a time, the two princesses had gotten older, and they left the comfort and familiarity of the palace, separately setting out to seek their fortunes, and glad to be away from each other at last.

"The queen's daughter, the darkly beautiful princess, traveled the world in search of adventure, visiting exotic lands where the air was filled with spices and danger lurked around every corner. The thrilling escapades that she seemed to fall into at every turn were very exciting at first, and she enjoyed living by her wits and outsmarting all the villains and foes that crossed her path. She kept company with a merry band of outlaws and brigands, inevitably becoming the ringleader in all of their outlandish quests for glory. But she eventually found that slaying one dragon was much like slaying them all, and a life spent encountering peril at every turn proved very tiresome, and not all that it was cracked up to be. And to her surprise and disbelief, she found herself missing the face of the fair princess, who was the only person who challenged her, and made her think about all sorts of interesting things."

"For her part, the striking flaxen-haired princess had taken residence in a bustling city far away from her father's kingdom, and devoted herself to the study of trade and commerce, as well as an unofficial course in human nature. She read all the books in the land, and studied with the most respected and learned professors, and became very wise in the ways of how the world worked. Because of her ability to couch her opinions in both flattering and diplomatic terms, and her sweet and delicate nature, that masked an iron will and a steely determination, she became known throughout the town for her sage advice on all kinds of matters. But she too, found herself thinking about the princess with the raven colored hair, and how much she admired her for her bravery and fearlessness, and how her displays of cunning and character had secretly delighted the fair princess."

Sam saw Brooke walking up the beach towards them, her head lowered and her board under her arm.

"One day, the dark princess's travels took her to the city where the fair princess lived, and the dark princess heard tell of a creature of astounding intelligence, astuteness and beauty wherever she went in the town. She thought that perhaps this mysterious woman might help her with her problem, so she sought an audience with her, intent on asking what the woman thought she should do, now that her life of adventure was not as satisfying as it had once been."

Brooke put her board down by the blanket, and then collected Lucy's sand toys, piling them up next to her board. She sat down next to Sam, who shivered slightly from the contact of Brooke's cool, wet arm against her sun-heated skin.

"Hey," Brooke said, and gave Sam a kiss. "Not The Two Princesses again?"

"Hi," Sam replied, nodding.

"Hi Mommy," Lucy bleated.

"Hi Baby," Brooke replied, leaning down and kissing Lucy on the forehead. "Are you having fun?"

"Yes, Ma's telling me a story."

"So I gather," Brooke said, then turned her attention to Sam. "Thanks for being the Lucy wrangler this morning. How are you feeling?"

"Fine. Thought I'd stay out of the sun, though, for Junior's sake," she indicated her belly. "How was it out there? Did you have fun hanging ten, Gidg?"

"I sure did, it was-" Brooke began, only to be interrupted by Lucy.


"Shh, Lulu. Remember we talked about patience?" Sam admonished quietly.

Lucy's expression was about as apologetic as a willful four-year-old could make it.

"No, that's okay, I think you were just getting to the good part," Brooke put in. She linked her arm with Sam's and looked out to the ocean, prepared to listen.

"All right," Sam said. "Now, where was I?" She thought for a moment before continuing. "Both princesses were flabbergasted to see each other again, after such a long time, and spent quite a while catching up on what the other had been doing since they had left the friendly kingdom where their parents lived. Stories were traded, and gossip was shared, and they howled with laughter far into the night. They grew nostalgic over the time they lived together in the palace, and didn't seem to remember all the times they had been mean to each other, or the times they had spoken ill of each other.

"The pair became inseparable; they were the toast of the town and their presence as guests was demanded at the swankiest of events. A banquet with the guaranteed attendance of the dark princess, with her ribald storytelling, and the fair princess, and her insouciant wit and wisdom, was a banquet that was an assured success."

Sam saw Brooke smirk at this. The truth was that it had been quite a while since the two of them had been to an event that could be called swanky, unless you counted the Julian company picnic, which Sam didn't.

"After several months had passed," she continued, "the darkly beautiful princess came to see the beautifully fair princess in her chamber, a troubled look on her face. 'My dearest friend,' the dark princess said, 'all those months ago, I came to you with a question, and you have never answered me. I am here to ask you again. What should I do with my life, now that slaying dragons and ogres and trolls has lost its appeal?'

"The fair princess had smiled at seeing her friend again, but her smile faded when she heard the question. She hoped that the dark princess was not getting restless, and preparing to leave the city.

"The dark princess saw the dismay on the fair princess's face, and was loathe to cause her any pain, so she rushed to fill the silence. 'Because replacing the charred clothing that dragon slaying inevitably leads to is a real nuisance, and it is nearly impossible to find a dry cleaner who can get ogre guts out of chain mail these days.'

"The fair princess crossed her chamber and stood before the dark princess. She hushed the prattling girl with a kiss. 'You should stay with me,' she said. 'Let us marry our fortunes together, and I will stand beside you, and share in your joys and your sorrows, and come to your aid with love and comfort when you are in need, and you can stand beside me and do the same.'"

This was the part where Sam could usually expect a quiet sniffle coming from Brooke's direction, and she wasn't disappointed today. She looked into Brooke's teary eyes and smiled, and Brooke smiled back ruefully at her predictability, and leaned her head against Sam's. They both looked down at Lucy and saw that the girl had fallen asleep. Sam didn't think their daughter had ever been awake for the end of the tale, and wondered what that said about her storytelling ability.

"Go ahead and finish, I'm still listening," Brooke murmured, as she usually did, smoothing her hand over Lucy's curls.

"Well," Sam said, looking directly at Brooke as she told the rest of the story, "the dark princess really liked the sound of that, and quite honestly, had been hoping that the fair princess would say something along those lines. From that day on, the two princesses were joined in love and peace. They returned to their parents' kingdom and were welcomed as conquering heroes. The king and queen rejoiced to see that they had overcome their differences and would live in harmony after all this time.

"The two princesses built a palace for themselves, not far from the king and queen, and soon had a beautiful little princess of their own, and a handsome little prince on the way."

Brooke gasped, and turned to look at Sam in astonishment. Sam nodded, her eyes dancing, she had heard from the doctor yesterday, but hadn't had a chance to tell Brooke that their next child would be a boy. Brooke crushed Sam into a hug, jostling Lucy and causing her to moan fitfully. Sam picked up Brooke's hand and kissed it, and held it while she told the last little bit of the tale.

"They settled into their lives, spending their days in a mostly quiet and unexciting style, but that was the way they liked it. They had their good days and they had their bad days, and they had their ups and they had their downs, but mostly they had ups."

Sam paused before saying the inevitable last line of the story, the line used to end fairy tales since fairy tales had been invented. She looked around her, at the ocean in front of her, and the sun and sky overhead. She looked at Lucy, and felt an overwhelming love for her baby girl rise up in her. And she turned and gazed at Brooke, the woman who was her heart and her soul, and who had made her happy for so many years. With all the good fortune that had come their way, they were as content as two people had a right to be. Brooke was watching her with an expectant expression, her dear familiar face as beautiful now as it had been when she was a teenager, when Sam had fallen in love with her. And then the years they were apart only made their coming together all the more sweet. Now Brooke was waiting for that last line that meant the story was over. But their story was not over yet. If the fates allowed, they would have many years of happiness ahead of them. Sam was not superstitious by nature, but she wondered why life had treated them so kindly. She wasn't going to question it, she just wanted to take a moment and be grateful. They had been lucky so far. She decided not to tempt the fates.

"And they lived hopefully ever after. The end."

No, really, that's the end.

I'm so glad that you finally made it here 
With the things you know now, that only time could tell 
Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are 
And oh, you're aging, oh, and I am aging, oh, aren't we aging well?
    - Dar Williams, "You're Aging Well"

The End

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