Corporal Teddy Parker went from being a hallucination to a ghost, and Booth still wasn't sure which one most accurately depicted the dead man's meaning during his...their...time in the ship. For the most part, Booth had settled on ghost, but something still nagged at the back of his neck.
"I don't like the idea of Teddy being a ghost," he admitted, flustered, when he and Bones got back in the truck.
Bones looked at him, studiously, and said, "I didn't think you did."
"I liked that he was there, but...that's selfish. He has to be dead to be a ghost."
Bones tilted her head. "I don't claim to know a whole lot about religion, Catholicism included, but wouldn't a similar definition for ghost be 'angel'?" Booth stared at her, hands on the wheel, unmoving. She shifted uncomfortably. "What?"
"You think Teddy was an angel?"
"I think that he..." Brennan inhaled deeply. "...was a friend, someone you cared a lot about. If I were a religious person like you - which I'm not - then yes, I would say that the Teddy Parker you think...that the Teddy Parker you saw was, in fact...an angel." She looked down awkwardly at her hands, and then back at Booth.
He wasn't smiling or laughing or yelling or crying - there was no radical change in Booth's expression. But there was change - his features softened, his shoulders drooped, his head tilted back in thought. A smile played at the corners of his mouth. "Thanks, Bones." He reached over and grasped her hand, squeezing it. "For everything."
In order to get Booth released from the hospital, Bones had agreed to watch over him for the next forty-eight hours, "just in case." Booth had had the choice between his place or hers, and he had opted for his own bed. On the way to Arlington National Cemetery, they'd stopped by Bones' apartment to grab a few necessities. Now that Booth had delivered the message he promised he'd give Claire, he was ready to crash in front of the TV. Corporal Teddy Parker - the hallucination-ghost-angel, continued to be on Booth's mind as he drove home.
One conversation in particular resurfaced...
"I need you to tell Claire I loved her," Teddy said.
"You never told her?" Booth asked flatly, disbelieving.
"I was twenty. I didn't know how to say it."
"Well, you say, 'I love you.' I mean, what's so hard about that?"
"What, you've never loved somebody and never said it to them?"
Booth stared at Teddy a moment, just a moment. In that moment, he realized Teddy was right. He had cared...very, very deeply about someone for four years now. He tried to show it, subconsciously, in things he did - Brainy Smurf, Jasper the Pig, Hot Blooded, guy hugs - but maybe that was the problem. It wasn't enough to show friendly affection...sometimes you really needed to tell someone the naked truth. Maybe if he'd, just once, taken a chance and told her...
Then something odd about the steel wall on the far side of the room caught his eye, his attention. He walked toward it.
"See, maybe that's why I'm here: to get you to say 'I love you' to somebody."
Booth pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex. They got out of the truck, opened the back. Bones reached for her duffel bag, but Booth snagged it first. "I can get it," she protested.
He closed the door. "Just...let me," he said.
Bones glanced between him and the bag in his hand. "All right," she said.
He smiled. "Thank you." He draped an arm around her shoulder. "Let's go."
They made their way up the flight of stairs to Booth's apartment. "Welcome to my humble abode," he said, grinning. "Feel free to the beer."
"Thanks," Bones said. Booth deposited the duffel bag by the couch, and she liked how he didn't even try to suggest she sleep in the bedroom. To others, it would seem ungentlemanly, but to her? She saw it as a silent agreement not to start an argument, which would certainly have happened if he tried. Crossing her arms, she looked around his apartment. Unlike the stereotypical bachelor's residence, Booth's apartment was clean and tidy. It was very masculine, but in a familiar way that made her feel welcome. Her eyes found Booth, standing by the counter, staring at her. She smiled, flushing.
"Thanks for staying, Bones," he said,
"Of course," she replied. At that moment, her phone rang. Frowning, she dug for it in her pocket. When she looked at the screen, her frown turned into a scowl. She shoved it back, ignoring it.
"Who is it?" Booth asked. Concern was obvious on his face.
Bones knew it was unlike her to simply blow somebody off, but still... "Hodgins," she said. Booth hadn't yet been debriefed about the "squint's side" of the ordeal, so she explained that the Gravedigger wouldn't have kidnapped him if Hodgins hadn't stolen the evidence.
"Even if he hadn't, she'd have kidnapped someone anytime investigators got close to finding her," Booth said rationally.
Bones huffed. "That's exactly what he said," she said, "and you're both right. But I'm not angry at him for stealing evidence." She paused. "No, wait, I am. I'm furious he stole evidence from the FBI." She ran her fingers through her hair. "Does he think he's the only one who wanted the Gravedigger caught? I was there, Booth! She came after me - not Hodgins. Hodgins was only taken because he got in the way. Logically speaking, I was always the Gravedigger's most likely target - before and after she got me. Of course I wanted to catch her - I have the most motive to want her in prison! And yet, I never stooped to stealing evidence and getting people's partners kidnapped!"
She took a quivering breath, and looked Booth straight in the eye. He was watching her, forehead wrinkled in concern, worry and anger. Bones felt her determined anger slipping. She sighed, defeated. "And then when it was clear what the Gravedigger wanted?" she whispered. "All he cared about was using the evidence to catch her. 'We can do both,' he said. 'Ten hours,' he said. He wanted to waste ten incalcuably valuable hours to find the Gravedigger. And I..." She put her hand over her eyes. "I agreed. I agreed to eight hours."
She heard shuffling, and Booth's arms were around her. Despite herself, all her resolve to stay strong, she hugged him close, as closely as she had in the helicopter. "We came so close to losing you."
Bones' phone rang again, vibrating against her thigh. They ignored it, taking comfort in each other's embrace. "Hey, I'm here," Booth whispered. "And we're okay. All of us. You, me, the squints - yes, even Hodgins." Impulsively, he kissed her temple. "I can't really fault him for wanting to catch that bitch. Hell, I'd like her dead. First she nearly killed you, and then she went and nearly killed me, and that really kinda pisses me off."
Bones laughed, her throat catching in the middle of it. "I don't fault him for wanting her caught, either. All of us wanted her caught. But he wanted to risk too much."
"I'm not interested in becoming a martyr," Booth said, "but her being caught would have been some consolation. Save her next victim."
Bones pulled back and placed her hands on either side of his head. "You mean way too much to me for that."
Booth swallowed visibly. "Bones..."
"Yes?" she said, tensing a little.
"When I was on that ship, the message Teddy wanted me to give Claire? He wanted me to tell her he loved her."
Bones' hands slipped from his face to his shoulders, and they both went over to the couch to sit down. Booth rubbed her wrist lightly with his thumb. "When he said that, I said, 'you never told her?' and his reply was...'what, you've never loved somebody and never told them?' - and I realized...he was right. Bones, I'm not saying this because of a near-death experience or any of those bullshit excuses. The thing is... when we first started working together four years ago, I could barely stand you. And then I admired you as well as being barely able to stand you. And then, I got to know you, and I know there's a side of you that few people are privileged to see. And the more I got to know you, the more I liked you, and sometime between liking you and now...I fell in love with you." He cleared his throat. "I love you, Bones."
Bones was staring at him, jaw slack, her mouth in the indecisive shape of an "o." And then, a split second later, she threw herself at him, the small distance between them vanishing, and hugged him like she couldn't get enough of him, like her life depended on him. He gently pushed her back, mere inches, and welded his mouth to hers.
And it occurred to him during that first "no-Caroline-with-mistletoe" kiss that she hadn't told him she loved him, too. And that was okay, because he knew that she did. In her own way, she loved him, and when she was ready, she'd say it. Until then, this was enough. He knew what was in her heart.