I don't think I need to say much - I'm still kinda speechless anyway. Just...WOW. I try to stay away from tags these days, but this was begging to be written.



She couldn't fight it anymore.

Not tonight.

Tonight was full of tacit agreement, heartfelt admissions…brutal honesty. Her earlier confession to Booth and Sweets had left her feeling jagged and worn; exposed in a way that she hadn't allowed herself to be since she was a young girl. And while it had been painful, it had also been cathartic. She felt momentarily purged of her deeply hidden burden, like a wound that was lanced in order to heal. All of this time, she had been terrified of the pain that healing would require. And now that that first metaphorical band aid had been pulled, the relief was overwhelming. She was heavy from the incredible peace that comes after pain finally recedes. In its place was an affection for those around her that was near eclipsing in its magnitude.

And so tonight, she simply didn't have the strength to keep fighting it. The pain that she kept hidden so deeply beneath the veneer of calm, collected, rational scientist had always been the power source she drew upon in order to keep her defenses up. Those walls vibrated and hummed a warning to anyone that dared to approach. But now that some of its pulsing, churning power had been drained, she found those defenses flickering on and off. Truth be told, she simply didn't have the energy – or the desire – to keep up the charade.

So she let it go.

Just for tonight, she shut down the system of pain and fear. And as its familiar presence wound down and finally came to a useless halt, something astounding came to life within her.

Joy.

A joy so consuming that it left her breathless. It was as if she was lifting her head from the wreckage in order to survey the land. And what she found was a life full of people and purpose unlike anything she had ever realized.

Sitting in the car with Booth and Sweets, they were on their way back to Booth's apartment to have dinner with Gordon Wyatt. The atmosphere in the car was heavy and thick with their shared experiences. And yet it wasn't uncomfortable in the least. There was Sweets, lost in thought in the backseat. Maybe he was thinking about the scars on his shoulders and how they had come to be there. Maybe he was deep in analytical thought regarding Booth and hers relationship. But whatever had his attention, her heart burgeoned with a deep affection for him. Maybe he really was like a baby duck, looking for his place to belong. But she found herself wondering who was really profiting most from this little dysfunctional family; because right now, with the lights from oncoming traffic casting the occasional light through the vehicle, she was thinking that it might be her.

And then there was the man sitting next to her in the driver's seat.

The man at the very heart and soul of her struggle.

No amount of defense had kept him out. Over the years, he had launched a steady assault on her carefully constructed exterior, taking advantage of every weak spot – every crack – that he could find. He had clawed his way into her heart with her fighting him every step of the way. Just for tonight, she was willing to accept it. As she had purged that first bit of poison from her soul, she had turned to look at him – to find the stability and reassurance that he always provided her.

And he was there.

Always there.

He offered her a handkerchief that had materialized from somewhere. She had cried her tears and he had helped wipe them away. Ever so carefully, she had folded them up, along with her heart, into that little bit of cloth. With a tenderness that caused her to tremble with its intensity, she tucked it back into his pocket, right over the place where his heart beat strong and steady. Proof of life. His life…and hers as well.

Seeley Booth – keeper of her tears.

She hoped that he understood what she wasn't able to say at that moment. She had let her hand linger over his chest for several seconds, pressing against the spot where she had hidden a piece of herself within him. She thought he heard her unspoken confession, because he had placed his hand where hers had been, a look of shock on his face.

She couldn't fight him anymore.

Not tonight.

And while she wasn't quite ready to name what it was, the word was in the back of her mind and deep in her heart.

She was suddenly experiencing the intense urge to reach across the center console and touch him. For a brief moment, old habits raised their head to cause her to question such a course of action. However, she simply squelched them beneath the simplicity of joy. She needed the contact.

With the movements born of a confident woman, she reached out her left hand and slid it over his right one, lying on his thigh. It took only a second for him to turn his palm right side up, his fingers slipping through hers. Her heart was pounding with the absolute rightness of the feeling, even as he looked up and captured her gaze with a look of such burning intent that she felt branded.

Branded.

Marked.

Claimed.

The concept of belonging to another person was foreign to her. How was it even possible? And yet, here she was. Surprised and a little shocked, but not at all offended or unhappy with the idea. For tonight, she was willing to just be his. And if the tight curl of his fingers against hers were any indication, then he was hers as well.

When they arrived at Booth's apartment, she relinquished his hand reluctantly. The three of them walked to the door, side by side. If Booth's touch on her back was slightly more possessive than usual, then she certainly wouldn't complain.

Not tonight.

Dinner was a warm and friendly affair. There was banter and laughter, moments heavy laden with shared experiences, affection and love. Her adult life and half of her teenage years had been lacking this dynamic that could only really be called by one name…family. For those few hours, Sweets was no longer the young psychologist that was constantly watching them. He was just a kid - a young man really - that was an important part of their newly formed group. Gordon beamed at them all from his position slightly outside of the dynamic. He regaled them with witty tales and fed them a fantastic meal. Truly, his culinary skills were far above what she would have anticipated.

If either of them noticed how she held Booth's hand under the table, they certainly didn't say.

When it came time for everyone to part ways, it was with a bittersweet sense of loss. None of them would be the same after tonight, yet they had professional personas to consider. Gordon was retiring from psychiatry. Perhaps a few emails or a random run-in might occur in the future, but tonight was really goodbye. He had offered to take Sweets back to his car for them, so their parting would go unobserved.

She was surprised when the older man sidestepped her outstretched hand and enfolded her in a fond embrace instead. His parting words were spoken softly in her ear. "It's been an absolute privilege, Dr. Brennan." He seemed to understand when she was unable to speak in return.

After relinquishing his hold on her, he turned to Booth. Her partner seemed to be struggling with some inner emotion. Booth had a tendency to make light of a situation in order to avoid the more serious undertones. As Gordon Wyatt himself pointed out, he was always trying to make people underestimate him. Sparing him the discomfort, he once again proved his uncanny ability to read people by extending his hand to Booth, who took it with a look of relief. "Agent Booth." Gordon leaned in closer, imparting some small piece of knowledge or insight that had Booth nodding in agreement.

And with a few more heartfelt compliments on the evening, a small wave, and a jaunty clap on Sweets' back – they were gone.

In the past, she would have felt compelled to fill up emotionally laden space with technical jargon and rationalities.

But not tonight.

Instead, she enjoyed the quiet company that Booth provided as the two of them cleaned up dinner and did the dishes. The comfortable domesticity of the moment was not lost on either of them. They spoke a little during the process – talking about how they would miss Gordon and how he was going to make an excellent chef. They touched briefly on the case, staying within the neutral areas of discussion. In no time at all, the task was complete and she was preparing her goodnights.

He walked her to the door, his hand trailing lightly on her back. It seemed that something of merit needed to be exchanged, but she wasn't sure what it was. A simple "see you later" just didn't seem to suffice. As she shrugged into her coat, a thought occurred to her.

"I'd like to meet your grandfather one day."

"Oh yeah? Why's that?"

She turned around to face him, finding that he was much closer than she had anticipated. She could feel the heat of him rolling off and enveloping her in its warmth. She had to tip her head up slightly to catch his eyes, ensuring that he would understand what exactly she was saying.

"To thank him."

She needn't have worried though, because his face collapsed into a raw mask of vulnerability. He brought a hand up to gently caress her jaw, and she could see his throat working up and down in an effort to say something. He lost the battle though, and instead closed the distance between them, capturing her lips with his.

If anything was sweeter than the achingly wonderful feel of Booth kissing her, than she didn't know what it was. He was tender and passionate at the same time, both restrained and unleashed. There was nowhere for her heart to hide under such intense stimulation. Instead, it beat high and hard within her ears as she felt her knees giving way beneath her.

Somehow, she managed to whisper against his mouth, the sound barely audible between them. "I'll stay if you ask."

He pulled back to look at her, reading only sincerity shining back from her slightly glazed expression. Leaning his forehead against hers, he sighed against her skin.

"You have no idea how badly I want to." After brushing his lips on her brow, he returned his gaze to her face. "But I can't. We can't."

He pressed his fingers to her lips as she opened her mouth to protest.

"Not tonight."

She was listening, his implication being that perhaps another night…

"Tonight has been…intense, to say the least." He paused here, using his thumbs to gently trace the curve of her neck. "So you go home, you gain some perspective, and if you still want to stay…" His eyes bore into hers with such promise that her breath hitched in her chest. "You can stay."

He pressed his lips once again to hers, a gentle caress of mouths. With his hands framing her face, he continued.

"You can stay as long as you like."

Chills swept along her spine as he traced her jaw with his mouth until he reached her ear. She felt the rumble in his chest as he spoke once more.

"You can stay forever."

He came back around to look at her again, and found tears slipping down her cheeks. She opened her eyes to stare in mute amazement at this man that was so important to her. She couldn't speak; her emotions high in her throat. Instead, she nodded and placed another soft kiss on his mouth. Flicking her wrist behind her, she opened the door and slipped out into the hallway. Somehow, she managed to force "good night" out of her mouth before turning and walking towards the outer door and her car, his own goodnight following along behind her.

Once behind the wheel, she simply sat there, absorbing all that tonight had revealed. She couldn't stop the tears from falling, and she didn't try. Somewhere within her, a single word sprang free from the cages she had entombed it in. It fluttered up through her brain, dancing along the edge of her soul, until it settled gently – and permanently – on her heart.

Love.


Phew! I feel MUCH better now! Sorry, I pounded this out pretty fast, and all mistakes are mine. Mayhem was a force to be reckoned with, and I was just along for the ride. ~Gryph