A/N: That's it for this story. Now I can move on to finish Standards and the next story in my Grave Digger series, among others. I worked hard on getting the voices right and on not going ooc, but would love feedback on any jarring notes that I might improve on, as well as anything else you did or did not like. Please R & R! :) :)
Brennan frowned, obviously aware that Booth was upset, but unsure of what she had done to merit the chastisement. "I'm sorry if I unintentionally offended you with my words, Booth. As I said before, it meant noth—"
"Don't say that." Booth closed his eyes momentarily in despair. "Just don't. Don't say it, Bones. Let me pretend at least for a minute. Okay?"
With an audible groan, Booth stepped away from her. "Never mind. Forget it. I'm the one who should be apologizing. I had no right to manhandle you like that." He waved a hand dismissively, trying hard to swallow the knot of frustration in his throat. "I'll call you later."
"Wait!" It was her turn to chase after him as he stalked off down the block. Even after she caught his arm and matched her step to his, he refused to turn his head and acknowledge her. There was too much danger that he would speak the unspeakable and frighten her away.
"I don't understand, Booth. Tell me what the problem is. We can talk it through. Isn't that we always do?" Her voice was close to pleading and he immediately felt guilty for expecting her to be anything other than who she was.
A small city park loomed in front of them and Booth dropped onto a wrought iron bench heavily. He tilted his head far back and closed his eyes. Brennan settled down a few inches away. Tenderness welled up within Booth at her clumsy attempt to give him space. He reached an arm out to her and she slid in close, settling naturally against his side as though she belonged there. Booth tugged at her waist, drawing her closer still, needing to feel her safe and whole beside him.
They sat quietly for a long while, his chin resting on her soft hair, her head on his chest. The moment was as peaceful as any they'd ever shared, until Brennan finally broke the silence.
"I know that I lack empathy, Booth." Her voice was deeper than normal—a sure sign she was nervous. "I lack your ability to read social cues and to forge connections with others through mutually understood nonverbal communication."
Booth stifled a smile at her unique, roundabout way of apologizing.
She lifted her head and fixed her clear, focused gaze on him. "But even I can tell how upset you are, and am aware that, somehow, my actions while buried underground are directly relevant to your current state of distress."
He sighed. "You just gotta understand, Bones—the thought of you in that car underground … it makes me crazy to think of how close I came to not getting there on time." His mouth turned to cotton with the memory of the fear he'd felt after getting the Grave Digger's message. Fear had progressed to panic as time ran out, followed by outright terror when they'd arrived at the quarry and hadn't immediately spotted any signs of the grave.
"But you found me," Brennan pointed out. "I knew you would."
Booth clenched his jaw, fighting back a wave of fresh memories. "But what if I hadn't, Bones?" He tried to break eye contact with her but failed miserably, and was left with only the prayer that she couldn't read the overriding emotion in his eyes. "What if I hadn't gotten the text? What if Zack hadn't decoded that message?"
"Wondering about what-might-have-been is an exercise in futility."
"No, it's an exercise in humanity," he countered. "When the woman you love is trapped underground and in danger of suffocating, it's only human to …" Booth's words trailed off as he realized what he'd inadvertently let slip. The emotion in his eyes had bypassed his brain and gone straight to his vocal chords.
Brennan pursed her lips, only just beginning to catch up to his revelation. Her genius brain was seemingly deliberately selective about the speeds at which it chose to process certain things.
"I assume a colloquial translation of your words would be partner in place of woman and care for in place of love—"
"No, Bones." Booth shook his head, cutting her off firmly. He'd waited for so many years to tell her. It seemed somehow appropriate that the words had chosen the moment for him. "This goes a whole lot deeper than caring about a work partner."
Fear filtered back into Brennan's eyes and, for the second time that day, Booth could almost see the gears in her mind whirring away. As a former "degenerate gambler" he knew that once the chips were on the table, the only thing to do was to risk it all and win enough to play another night, or count his losses and walk away in shame. Right now the cards were most definitely all in play and he had no intention of folding.
"Some of the things that you said in that letter …" Booth caught her hand in his own and raised it to his cheek. "Bones, you've gotta know, you make me happy."
Turning his head slightly but never breaking eye contact, he pressed his lips to the center of her palm. "I love your weird sense of humor, even if half the time it's wrapped up in so much scientific stuff that you have to translate it for me before I get the joke." He teased her gently, trying unsuccessfully to draw a response out of her. "You make me laugh. You make me smile."
He could feel the automatic impulse to recoil unfolding within her. Reaching out, he caught her free hand and laced his fingers through hers, refusing to let her pull away. "You make the job worth the patience it takes to handle all the red tape and bureaucratic shit that comes with the territory."
"I love you, Bones." Again, Booth interrupted, unable to stop the words now that they'd started. "When I kissed those other women that your letter said you were jealous of, I closed my eyes and all I ever saw was you. After Parker, you're the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about before going to bed."
She didn't interrupt this time when he paused, only sat there gazing up at him, her clear blue eyes wide with a mixture of emotions.
"Physically, you're outstanding," Booth continued. "I've never seen you shirtless, but I'd sure as hell like to."
Brennan chuckled abruptly at his deliberate corruption of her words. The unusually happy, carefree sound sent sparks of heat through Booth. He wanted more of that laughter.
He glanced meaningfully at her form-fitting, scoop-necked cobalt top. "I must admit that my 'biological impulses' have been very hard to keep in check when you wear those low-cut blouses."
More laughter. Almost giddy sounding. He could easily get drunk on the sound of her happiness.
Booth continued quoting from her letter, as though the words had seared themselves into his brain. "I am attracted to your height, your well-defined musculature and narrow waist."
She rolled her eyes slightly.
"Every now and then I fantasize that I'm allowed to run my fingers through your hair." Watching her for signs of a reaction, he drew his fingers through the heavy fall of curls at the nape of her neck. "You are so beautiful, Bones." His blood turned thick and heavy with desire as the silken strands drifted through his fingers. "I've dreamed about having your palms resting on my bare skin, as much as I've harbored the fantasy of the two of us walking down the street holding hands."
His voice dropped an octave. "I can still taste your kiss, Bones. It's even better than that magic macaroni."
She punched his shoulder lightly and dropped her head. "Booth …I'll admit the chemistry between us was quite definitive. But what if –"
He tipped her chin up with two fingers. "You know, Bones, I'm friends with this really, really smart squint. A genius, actually, who, kind of annoyingly, very rarely ever makes mistakes and likes to rub her intelligence in my face." He hid another smile at the annoyance on Brennan's face as she realized where this conversation was headed. "If she's so smart, then you'd think her advice is probably worth following, right? And this genius recently told me that what if's are an exercise in facility."
"Futility," she corrected automatically. "And stop using my words against me."
"No, facility," Booth retorted. "The word means easy, right?"
"In a manner of speaking—"
"So what-if's are an easy exercise in escaping, Bones. You want an easy out to this relationship because you're afraid, and I'm not going to give you one."
"That's a deliberate misinterpretation of—"
"When I struggle with falling asleep at night," Booth cut in, dead serious now, "I replay your laughter in my mind and the look in your eyes whenever something strikes you as funny. You have a wonderful smile, Bones. You deserve happiness."
"How did you memorize my letter so quickly?" She sidestepped the issue. "In my experience, your near-perfect photographic recall of facts has generally been limited to sports statistics and song lyrics."
"Hey, hey, don't knock my rote memory! Sports statistics and song lyrics can be every bit as complicated as your chemical formulas! And I guess I remember your letter because those aren't just your words, Bones. They're mine. You wrote down exactly what I've been wanting to say to you since the day we first met."
"Yet again, you're exaggerating. It's not possible that—"
"Go on. Test my memory," he challenged. "I may not have your 'photographic recall', but I'll win this contest handily. I remember what you were wearing. Your perfume. The first words you ever said to me. Even the look on your face when you first got annoyed at me for wanting to have a conversation that wasn't squinty."
He waited for her to take him up on the wager, but got only aggrieved silence and downcast eyes in return. She was closing in on herself, sealing off the walls to the Brennan fortress. But she hadn't stomped away yet, so he still had a fighting chance.
"Bones, you trusted me to find you 6 feet underground in the middle of nowhere by following some tire tracks, dirt samples and a puddle of blood. Trust me now, when there's a whole lot more evidence pointing toward the treasure chest. We're good together. Five years should be more than enough empirical proof of how good we are."
"I do trust you," she protested. "You've repeatedly proved your ability to open yourself to others and become a reliable presence in people's lives. It's my own capacity to love that I doubt. "
"Bones," he said as patiently as he could, "You thought about taking your own life to give Hodgins extra time. Right?"
"Would you have done the same thing for Angela? Zack?"
"Hypothetically, had we been in a similar situation as Hodgins and I were, yes. Both of their potentials may eventually exceed even my accomplishments. It wouldn't be right to truncate their chances of survival simply because I'm in the same vehicle and have already achieved worldwide recognition both for my forensic and writing abilities. Anthropologically-speaking, the next generation holds more value than the previous, so it only follows that—"
"What about me, Bones? Would you save me?"
"As I stated in the letter, your son requires a strong male role model. I would not deprive him of that need."
It wasn't the answer he wanted, but he kept pressing. "What about your brother and father, Bones? Would you have done the same for them?"
A cloud settled over her face. "They're incarcerated. They have little to offer society."
"Your brother and your dad, Bones," he repeated, leaning closer and watching her back away unconsciously. "All three of you are buried underground together in a car that's rapidly running out of oxygen. You take your own life, they have a chance at just a little bit longer to be rescued. Would you do for them for what you would have done for Hodgins?"
Still, she reached for logic to underscore her arguments. "Russ' adoptive children lack a concrete father figure in their lives, thanks to his poor choices. My father's age makes the likelihood of his contributing anything outstanding to society a poor prospect, even if he's ever released from prison."
It was a cruel game he was playing with her, but he needed her to break free of her scientific reasonings and understand where her impulse to save Hodgins' life had really come from.
"Rescuers are 15 minutes away. Your dad and Russ are almost gone, Bones. Yeah, maybe they'll go straight back to prison, but if they just had that little bit of extra air, they might make it. Would you save their lives by giving your own?"
The color had drained from her face as she warred with her inner squint. "I don't understand how this line of conversation is relevant to our previous discussion."
"Make a decision, Bones," he snapped, slapping the metal bench with his open palm. "They're dying. Yes or no? Do you save them?"
"Yes." Confusion was written across her lovely face. "There's no logical argument for such a decision, but I would."
"You would," Booth said softly. A lone tear slid down her cheek and he brushed it away with his thumb. "I've always known you would, Bones. The letter only confirmed it."
"But you were angry at me because of what I wrote in the letter! It clearly contravened your religious beliefs," Brennan objected. "You believe that, had I taken my own life, I would have been condemned to an afterlife of perpetual immolation."
"I was angry because the thought of not having you here with me makes me physically sick," he said bluntly. "There's never an excuse to commit suicide, but the thought of your bleeding out in that car, all alone, just because you thought that Hodgins' life was apparently worth more than your own—" Booth shuddered, unable to complete the thought as the image of a bleeding, dying Bones filled his mind.
She took his hand uncertainly, aware again that he was upset, but unsure how to remedy the situation.
He squeezed her hand tightly in return, silently thanking God for her life. "You just said that you'd save Russ and Max, even though they're not doing much good for the world behind bars. It's not because of some twisted scientific ideal of what they might offer to future generations. You would lay down your life for your family and friends because you love them, Bones."
Silence hovered between them for uncounted moments, while Booth's heart thudded in his ears.
"Your argument is well-reasoned," she finally admitted, glaring at the back of his hand as thought it could somehow help unravel the confusion in her brain.
"Damn straight it is!" He had to restrain himself from punching the air exultantly. "I won that argument hands down, Bones. Admit it. That genius brain is nowhere near as big as your heart. "
"Booth, the physical size of a human heart has nothing to do with the amount of empathy a person can apport."
He sighed. "The point is, Bones, if your capacity to love is the only thing stopping us …" he trailed off, praying for her to pick up where he left off.
Her grip on his hand tightened and she still refused to look up at him. "Perhaps I am capable of loving you…"
Every nerve in Booth's body went zing.
"Though not in the same manner as you love me."
"More than partners, Bones?" He knew how desperate his words sounded and didn't give a damn. "More than just friends?"
Her answers was a long time coming. Finally, she spoke quietly. "I believe so. Yes."
Birds in a tree nearby exploded in song, probably because of some nearby predator, but to Booth it was an entirely heavenly chorus of Handel's Messiah, all wrapped up in his partner's softly-spoken, carefully-phrased words.
He nudged her chin up again, so he could see her beautiful tear-filled eyes, and smiled so wide his face hurt. "Then your manner is exactly right for me, Bones."
She smiled back, just a little shyly, and Booth had to chuckle at how uncertain they both were of how to take the next step into a moment that had been so long in coming.
"I'm a little out of practice at declarations of love," he acknowledged ruefully, "But I think this is the part where I kiss you."
Brennan leaned into him, bracing her palms on his chest. Her eyes drifted shut but she made no other move, clearly waiting, unwilling to go forward without him. Bold and uninhibited as she proclaimed herself to be, she was still afraid, still holding back, and Booth had no intention of pushing her any farther than they'd already come today.
He threaded his fingers through her hair, cupped the back of her neck and drew her forward until their mouths were millimeters apart. When she didn't pull back, he lowered his head that last fraction of an inch and kissed her slowly—very, very slowly, in spite of the explosions going off in the most primal part of his brain, in spite of her sliding onto his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck, and kissing him back so trustingly that he felt his heart turn over in his chest. He'd envisioned the moment 1000 different times, 1000 different ways, but the tenderness between them was unimaginable.
He whispered the words as the kiss deepened gradually between them. ""I love you, Bones." Her lips parted, drawing him in. "Always have." He explored the inner recesses of her mouth, drawing back occasionally to look into her cerulean eyes, now half-lidded with desire and gazing into his. "Always will." Her soft, contented sigh was absorbed into his very being. "Forever."
"Oh. My. God."
Still enveloped in Booth's arms, Brennan broke the kiss reluctantly and looked over at her best friend, who had apparently chosen the exact right moment to take her new puppy for a walk in the park. Angela looked like she'd just been handed Christmas, New Year's and an all-expenses paid trip to Paris wrapped up in one.
The artist bounced with elation. "It's about time!" The Yorkshire Terrier mix at her feet added his excited yaps to her squeals. "Finally you two have come to your senses!"
Booth sighed, not at all happy at the rude interruption, or at having their brand-new relationship outed so quickly. He looked at Brennan, wondering what her reaction would be. It wouldn't have surprised him if she'd immediately retreated back into a scientific shell, spouting jargon about biological needs and adrenaline glands or some such nonsense.
He discovered with a shock that his partner was grinning at Angela. Grinning and blushing. Definitely blushing, endearingly, like a teenage schoolgirl.
Angela bounced and squealed some more, setting off another round of frantic yaps from her puppy. "Sweetie, I'm so happy for you!"
Brennan sneaked a peek at Booth before burying her head in his neck and giggling. The vibrations of her laughter sent tendrils of warmth through his chest. He wrapped his arms around her more tightly and glared mildly at Ange.
"Kinda busy here, Montenegro …"
She backed away. "I'm interrupting. I'll leave you two alone."
Booth waited as she dawdled delightedly away, stopping occasionally glance over her shoulder and beam like a Cheshire Cat. When she was halfway across the park, he looked down once more. His partner's reaction had been so unexpected, he wasn't sure what to say. He still harbored the fear that she'd change her mind and shut down on him. This time, however, he had no intention of standing outside patiently, waiting for her to open the gates. He'd storm her damn emotional fortress, if that's what it took to keep her with him.
She glanced sideways up at him and Booth's heart lurched. Her hair was mussed from their makeout session, her lips swollen from long, lingering kisses. All insanely arousing, but not nearly as hot as the laughter in her beautiful eyes and the awareness that no gate-crashing would be necessary today.
"You do realize that the entire museum will know about us in the next twenty minutes, Booth."
Hearing her refer to them as an us was enough to make Booth want to dance up and down like Angela.
"And you're okay with everybody knowing?"
"Yes." She smiled at his astonished reaction and trailed her fingers across his chest, lingering over his pounding heart. "I'm fairly certain that Angela is watching us from a discreet distance, Booth. Perhaps we should give her a little more firewood for the fuel …"
Booth didn't correct her mixed-up idiom. He was far too busy responding to her oh-so-unmixed-up kiss.