Author's note: Well, friends (yes, I do think of you that way!) this is the final installment. It was a pleasure- the writing, the reviews, the reactions. You were great readers, great company. So thank you for that.
Thank you - big, big thank you- to MickeyBoogs for reading, for revising, for pointing out inconsistencies, for being such a great Beta.
And one final word to those of you with alerts to this this story. I know you are out there. But you are just a mirage if you don't leave your comments. Reviews are, as almost any author will tell you, our bread and butter (or low fat, low cholesterol sunflower spread as the case may be) So, please, be kind, review.
"India." Jared's tone was as patronizing as Seeley's was incredulous.
"Because... because India is big. India is massive. India is a whole continent, that's why."
"Actually, it's a subcontinent."
"What? Just correcting a fact, that's all." But she stabbed her salad, nonetheless, resuming her silence through the rolling conversation between brothers.
"You can't go alone."
"What do you mean why? Because you're just one guy. You're not used to being just one guy. You are usually one of the Booths or a Marine. You have people to back you up. People have your back."
"Fuck that, Big Brother!" Jared gave Brennan an apologetic look. "Sorry, Tempe." The charm smile definitely ran in the Booth family. "Maybe I'm just tired of people hovering, of someone always having my back." And that was more than Jared had intended to say. Niceties were still unchartered territory for him. But he was trying. "Look, Seel, maybe it's time I see what I can do on my own, huh? You can find me a job when I come back if you want, but now? Just trust me to do this. I promise you can ride to the rescue if I fuck up. Besides," he bumped Brennan's shoulder in much the same fashion Booth usually did, a companionable bump with a wink and a smile, "you don't want me around. Tempe might just want to swap you for an improved, newer version of Booth."
Brennan smiled at the younger Booth. It was good to feel that he had no resentment towards her. It wasn't so much the fact that he'd ended up arrested and stripped of his rank and livelihood, but more to the point, that he didn't resent the things she had told him to force him into action. They had tacitly agreed on not mentioning the issue and that suited her just fine. She hated feeling like the water that freezes inside the rock and splits it apart, no matter how often Booth had told her lately that there was no fracture. That between him and Jared things had always been more than a little complicated which was not unheard of between brothers.
"Yep, India" Jared took a sip of his soda. Suddenly it had hit him, just what he was taking on. An entire continent- well, subcontinent- alone- and his drink wouldn't go down quite so well. God, a beer would help far more than a soda this new dry self was drinking. He sighed.
"You're not alone." It was his brother, but he sounded so much like a father- when Seeley deposited a gold medal and chain in the space between them. "You're never alone" Was that about God or about him? With Seeley, sometimes the concepts got mixed up. Seeley had always been bigger than God in his book. How had things gotten so out of hand?
"That's Grandpa's medal."
"No! I got you this one. Me!"
"I don't know, man, am I alone if I take a saint with me?" But Jared's heart felt the fullest it had been in a long, long time as he passed the chain over his head.
"Don't even answer that, Bones." She wasn't going to. Honest she wasn't. Over time she had come to believe that for some people, belief in an omniscient, omnipotent being was a solace and even a source of resilience and strength. She wasn't about to take that from Jared. Her hand touched Booth's over the table, reassuring without words. His thumb rubbed over the back of her hand eliciting a delightful shiver of pleasure that started in her hand and ran through her body, alighting her pleasure center. The man had far too much power over her body- a power no one before him had ever had. She momentarily forgot about her salad and Jared and the Founding Fathers and got lost in Booth's promising clever finger. That finger that knew how to do so much to her already.
"Well," Hodgins pulled a chair and slid into it in a one fluid movement, "You can have it both ways" and he slid a phone in front of Jared while signaling the barman for a beer. "Dr B., Booth" He greeted with an inclination of the head.
"Gee, thanks. A second hand cell..." Hodgins' smile faded a little.
"No, no, no! This little babe here is a modified handset. Ange and I kitted it out with a few extras that just may come in handy. There's this GPS based, encrypted locater and this extra battery cell for emergencies..."
"And my personal favorite," Angela added as she and Cam arrived to sit at the table, "a little explosive device- mind you, distraction only, but it will buy you time- for a once only use. Borrowed from the CIA handbook."
"Do they know they're lending it?" But Jared couldn't stop smiling. He felt like a kid with a brand new toy. Or James Bond.
"Probably best not mention it"
"Thought so. Why are you doing this? The phone is..."
"Welcome to the family, Jarhead." Had Cam always had that almost maternal look when she talked to him? He probed Seeley with his eyes. Family had always been about blood.
"What? Am I a squint too now?"
"Nuh... just like the idiot little brother we need to look out for." Cam's wink smoothed the remark over.
"The land of misfit toys welcomes you, little brother." Over the table his hand searched Brennan's and held it. It was never going to be easy to just let go of his little brother. In many ways, it would always be the same first day of school. To relinquish control over the safety of the ones he loved... But the hand that squeezed his over the table helped. As did the smile. Was it him or did she smile different when she smiled at him? Suddenly there was only the two of them. God, that smile held his heart in its hand. Hadn't she always? "Quack."
"Quack," Brennan quacked in reply.
"Are they having a moment? I always feel like I'm walking in on them when they do this," Sweets complained pulling a chair to sit with the rest of the team. "I'm not sure I'll ever get used to this."
"Yeah, they're having a moment."
"Is this the moment when we tell them again to get a room?" Cam's words had the desired effect and recalled Booth back to The Founding Fathers. The comment never failed to get him to blush. The first few days Booth had threatened the audacious ones who had made the very same suggestion with jail and pain. As time wore on, the threats stopped producing the cringe factor he banked on and finally there was nothing else but to live with the razzing. Bones took it all more in stride. It never failed to amaze him how comfortable she was in that sexy skin of hers.
"Well, it's none of your business, people. Now if it bothers you, just move along." Booth looked to Brennan for moral support. At least they were together on this. Sweets was nearly happy. They had gotten Booth to blush. Just one more button to push, Dr. Brennan's button.
"Isn't love wonderful, Dr Brennan?" Wait for it, wait for it. "I mean, you are clearly so much happier now that you and Agent Booth have accepted the true nature of your feelings towards each other." One more tiny little push. "I mean, look at you two: expressions of love, like holding hands over the table... it clearly agrees with you." And bullseye! Brennan blushed furiously and averted her eyes. And that never ceased to amaze him, no matter how many times he saw it with his own eyes, that the woman would not be frazzled by discussions about her sex life but mention the word love and Agent Booth in the same sentence and she blushed. It was actually sweet. Brennan covered her burning cheeks with her hands and tried to make herself small. All the talk about love still made her self-aware and uncomfortable.
"It's OK to blush, Brenn. You've got yourself a hunk- an over-protective alpha male who loves you. And who you love back- for the first time in your life. If with all of that you can't be forgiven for blushing then there is no justice in the world, Sweetie"
"Aw, isn't that sweet? Well," Jared stood up, "I might as well get going. So much sugar will give me tooth decay. Tempe, my offer stands: you ever get tired of Seel, I'm a kitted-out cell phone away. Just ask Hodgins for my number."
"Yeah, you just move along now," Booth's tone was not all playful.
"Yeah, you better get going then, there's no telling what kind of dentists they have in India." And with that Cam made a quick escape. Sweets was right. It was just like walking in on your parents having sex.
"Besides," Angela flirtatiously grabbed Jared's arm. "It'd be a shame to spoil that smile"
"Weren't you dating a chick?"
"Yeah. Want me to tell you all about it? You know, give you something to remember me by while you're in India?"
Sweets quickly got up to follow. He'd give an arm to listen in on that conversation, let alone be part of it. It was puerile, but hey, he was just a guy with a crush on the lovely artist. And it was hot. So hot!
Jack got up and followed the gang out. He had no talent as a candle holder. And still he couldn't help it but stay behind just a little and look back at the couple sitting now alone at the table, a little lost in the way Booth's hand held Brennan's as he moved to seat by her side, on how his thumb rubbed her knuckles softly as he kissed her hand. And how she raised her eyes and looked at him like he was her center of gravity. It was a meaningful connection. And he was just a little bit jealous.
Brennan loved to watch her hand inside Booth's. She'd been a grown up far too early, always far too strong. Always too resilient. Fragility. Her hand inside Booth's was fragile and she was getting to like that fragility, that sense that she was protected, that she could really sleep and that nothing was going to hurt her because he was watching over her. She enjoyed being small and cherished. Her hand turned over and draped over his. It was smaller but it was a strong hand. Capable of protecting him. A hand that was strong enough to cherish him. More importantly, a hand that was strong enough to release control over her personal happiness and place it on his. In the end, it had turned out to be that their love- and she still cringed internally every time she used the term- was that they were two solitudes protecting each other.
"You've been very quiet tonight. Are you OK?" His finger took her chin and lifted so that their eyes could meet.
"Yeah. I've just been thinking..."
"That usually takes you a whole two seconds if it's a complicated issue." His finger that no longer needed an excuse to trace the contours of her face just indulged and traced up and down, marveling at the texture of her skin when her face cradled in his whole hand. And then his mouth ached to take hers, so he did. "Sorry," he smiled that devilish Booth smile, "I interrupted you."
"You make it difficult to think."
"That's good, right? Sounds good."
"It is good. Booth... you know there are things that I don't really know how to say... That are difficult for me to say."
"It's OK, Bones."
"No, it's not, Booth. I've kept silent for too long. Almost messed everything up because I couldn't- or wouldn't – say them...." Her voice was coming thick and her breathing labored. "The point is... Oh God... The point is I love you." And her voice broke just a little at that point. "I love you and I should say that because otherwise you can't just know. I mean, you're very good judge of character but -"
"Bones?" And his wandering finger stopped under her chin once again and raised it. He moved in to kiss her. And it was a slow burn of kiss that raised her pulse and made her lose track of what point she was at in her confession. He pulled her into his chest and squeezed her tight. He loved feeling her there, nestled against his beating heart. "I love you, Bones." And his breathing was just a little bit altered and his body had reacted to her as it always did and he could think of nothing better than to take her home and let her tell him with her delightful body just how much she loved him. He would never get tired of showing just how much he loved her.
"Will you always be kissing me into silence?"
"Well, you know... a kiss in time saves nine."
"Isn't it a stitch?"
"It's a kiss, Bones. A kiss in time... Come on now, let's get a room before they kick us out."