I know everyone is probably doing fics off of the finale right now, but I couldn't NOT do this.

I don't own Bones. If I did, there would have been hugging at that airport, and a tear sliding down her face, and maybe his as well, when they turned away. But no, she hugs Hodgins and not Booth. *sigh*

The rippling water distorted the image of her reflection as splotches of sunlight danced across the pool. Her eyes gazed across rather than down, and her fingers drummed in a subconscious way on the side of the full coffee cup that she held in her hand.

He was not there.

It was the only thought she could coherently form... that he was not standing by her side. That he had not been waiting right here for her when she arrived. That his warm arms had yet to envelop her in the only form of welcome home that she wanted.

A year was a long time.

A very long time.

The Maluku Islands discovery had been one of the most fascinating and amazing finds that she had ever been privileged enough to work on, let alone be in charge of. There had been anthropologists and researchers everywhere, from all corners of the world, and for the past twelve months she had been surrounded by people who were, in many ways, just like her.

It was amazing how something like that could wake one up so fully.

While the work had been fascinating, the overall experience had left a sad edge to everything she saw, heard, touched... it all reminded her of what was so incredibly far away, both physically and emotionally.

At some point, she had begun to realize that the world of the Jeffersonian was small. Isolated. And it felt like... home. No matter what she did or how much time she dedicated to working with the utmost diligence on the anthropology she was immersed in on the islands, every time she though about the end of the trip she always saw the same exact thing.

She saw the Jeffersonian, and Angela, Hodgins, Cam, and all her interns. And in her imagined place, which was something between a memory and a wish, everything was the way it had always been. There was disagreement and jokes mixed in with excitement and the rush of fresh evidence and data being compiled. And in this dream-like world, she stood off to the side and just watched as everyone worked flawlessly together, enjoying each other's company just as much as their contributions to the solving of the case and the closing of yet another mystery.

And she smiled, a mixture of pride and happiness swelling inside her, much like the feeling she used to get whenever Zach solved an equation or told her something before she had even noticed it... she felt connected to these people, and she felt that all she wanted was to spend as much time as she could with them. They were her family... her makeshift, messed-up-a-bit family that she simply loved more than she had thought possible.

All it took was a year away for her to realize it, and see the impact they had each had upon her life and what she treasured most in the world.

Beyond that, though, she had begun to picture a different scene as the months until her return began to count down. The Reflecting Pool... Washington Monument standing tall and proud at one end... the smell of coffee drifting to her. Booth standing right there, ordering his coffee, as she approached. And then he turned around, and he just grinned at her, like he'd known she'd be coming at that exact moment. That was when she felt that everything was going to be alright.

But it wasn't.

Because here she was, the water right in front of her, the coffee sent staining the air, the Washington Monument a foreboding omen in the sky, casting a long shadow in the sun of late afternoon.

She'd been there for five hours.

The moment she had her luggage she had been out of that airport and in a taxi, heading straight to the place where she had expected to see him.

And he had not been the one waiting.

So, she had waited for him, wondering the whole time if he looked different, or if he'd be exactly the way she remembered him. Would he have changed? Would his time back in the army have altered his view of the world? Hardened him more... isolated him from her? Had he missed being here as much as she had? Had he missed his son and their coworkers?

...Had he missed her?

What she had told Angela before she left had been the exact truth. She had left with the intent to find out exactly what she wanted from herself, from him, and from the rest of her life. The indecision and the confusion had simply gotten to be too much, and she had needed to escape.

A year apart gave perspective, and for the first time, it actually made her wonder if she had started out doing the right thing. What would it mean, if she actually lost him for good? If he moved on with his life without her, and she never saw him again? How would she cope, if just this past year her only calming thought had been that she would see him again soon?

Whether she liked it or not, she had to accept at some point that he had become a part of who she was. He was just as much responsible for her happiness and her ability to function as she was. If he was gone from the picture... she wouldn't be able to manage nearly as well. For certain she wouldn't be as happy.

Watching Daisy had been another insight. Her and Sweets were engaged; they had announced their love for one another and their interest in having a life together. And yet, here she was in the Maluku Islands, having left Sweets behind without a great deal of regret. Where once she too might have been able to do that, somehow she hadn't been capable. She had agonized over the idea of leaving him behind, and had only taken solace from the knowledge that he, too, was leaving. That she wasn't abandoning him. If he hadn't been offered something like he had been, she wasn't sure she would have been able to go... how could she do that, after all, when she knew how much it would hurt if he had done it to her, and left her behind?

She had not turned him down when he had asked for a relationship because she didn't want one. She had turned him down because it had terrified her. For the two years prior, she had been worried nonstop about what it would mean if something happened to him. His faked death had been the most painful reality she had ever faced, topping even the disappearance of her parents when it came to how well she'd held herself together when no one was watching. To have him fall into a coma only a year later and not know if he would wake up... that had been her second wake-up call to just how deeply she was invested in her connection with him.

Losing him to that bullet from Pam Nunan had been horrific, but realizing just how easily it could happen again had just about been her undoing. How could she form a relationship with him, when he could so easily be taken from her? She already had so many memories with him... to add more to that list, if she chose to become romantically involved with him, would make things infinitely worse when something went wrong.

And if something unforeseen didn't go wrong, surely something with them would go wrong. With her. She couldn't maintain relationships, and if there was anything in the world that she wouldn't do, it was hurt him. If something happened to him, she wouldn't survive it. If she destroyed their relationship, he would hate her forever. There was no win for either of them, and so she'd turned him down.

It was a testament to how often she had considered the idea herself that she had been able to answer so quickly when he had asked.

Only now, she was wondering if she was wrong. Being without him tore her apart in more ways than she'd thought possible. It was one thing for him to be dead, and to grieve and wonder about how things could have been different... it was another to know that things could still be different, and do nothing about it.

A recurring thought that had come up during her time on the islands had been that if she didn't take the risk, and something happened to him anyways... how would she ever know? As it was, she didn't know how things would turn out because she hadn't experimented properly with the right variables. Booth was not the same as other men she had dated. Booth cared for her on a level that was closer to friendship than desire for biological satisfaction. She knew him well enough to know that he would want to take her on dates and make breakfast for her... and that none of that would simply be a precursor to an excuse for sex.

She cared about him, too, of course. Why else would she be so invested in not hurting him, and so panicked about losing him? Even after she'd turned him down on a relationship, she'd been desperate to know that she still had him, that they were still partners and friends. That by turning him down in one way, she wasn't pushing him forever from her life. She didn't know if she would have survived that.

She had made up her mind, in the last two weeks of the trip, and she had intended to stick with it. If Booth met with her on the anniversary of the day they had parted, right where he told her he would be, and he still seemed just as close to her as he always had, she would bring up the idea. And she would tell him the truth, at long last.

Because she simply couldn't live in the shadows anymore, not when she knew the truth now herself, and denial was going to do absolutely no good.

And he wasn't there.

Her eyes slid shut to fight back the moisture that was rapidly building in them. Crying had not become uncommon for her in the past few months, while she had stressed over what to do before she came to her decision. She had hoped maybe it had something to do with the jungle air. Clearly her weak attempt at denying that truth, too, had been thwarted.

For the first time in the past five hours, she let herself contemplate the idea that maybe he wasn't coming at all. He was a hero, after all, and even if she'd told him not to be himself over there... there was no doubt in her mind that he had been. Maybe he had liked being back in the army environment. He had most certainly been good at what they'd sent him to do. There was no way, with Booth, that anything else could be true. He always put his absolute best into his work, into what he loved and cared about, and he would always serve his country in the best ways that he could. If that meant helping save lives in a war that maybe even he didn't truly believe in any more, then that was what he would do.

He could easily have chosen to stay there. Or maybe he'd been promoted again, or offered a new position... any number of things could have happened to hold him there.

Maybe in a few days she would get a letter. Communication had been nearly impossible given that she was in the middle of the jungle while he was off in the desert, but now that she was back in DC he would have an easier time contacting her.

She hadn't even been back to her apartment yet, or collected her mail that was on hold over at the post office. There might very well be an explanation awaiting her there.

The one thing she did know was that he was fine. She had gone through every possible route to find out if he was alive and well, and she knew that to be the case. He had not been taken from her. Not yet.

But where he was... that wasn't something that she knew.

She knew that she missed him, though, and that more than anything she just wanted to see him again.

When she opened her eyes, though, he wasn't there. He was no where in sight, and the sun was already beginning to descend.

She tossed the coffee cup—the third one that she had purchased without so much as taking a sip—into the nearest trash bin, and then began to walk away from the monument and the lightly rippling water, which was sending up reflections of a forlorn and lonely sky without feeling the pain that came with it. That was all for her, and her alone.

It was a knock that woke her up from where she had fallen asleep sprawled on her couch after fighting off the exhaustion and the tears for far too long.

She barely dared to let herself believe it could be him... after all, Angela might just as easily be the one checking up on her. But yet her feet propelled her to the door faster than she had thought was possible, and she opened it without checking the peephole, staggering back in surprise as she took in the figure that stood on the other side.

"Booth," she whispered.

He grinned over the top of a take-out bag. The smell of Thai food filled the air.

She was dreaming.

There was no way she couldn't be... she turned back inside and looked for the nearest clock, her mind too muddled to think straight and remember where they were in her apartment. It felt strange to be back there, to begin with.


She closed her eyes and let out a slow breath, trying to think herself into wakefulness. She didn't need to be taunted by her own brain... not right now. Not when she had enough problems.

"Bones?" he questioned, and her breath rushed out at the sound of his voice, perfect as it had always been, saying her beloved nickname. "Hey, are you alright?"

"I... you're really here?" The question came out unsurely, and she bit her lip, not liking the way she sounded. Like a frightened child questioning whether or not monsters were hiding under the bed.

"Yeah. Yeah Bones, I'm here. I... can I come in?" he gestured to the bulky bag, and she hurriedly stepped out of the way, letting him through.

When he passed by, his back to her as he moved through her apartment to set the take-out down on her table, she childishly pinched herself to check and make sure.

He turned back to her, with free arms now, and held them out questioningly. Without even pausing to think, she dove straight forward and into them, burying her face in his chest and securing her arms around him.

He was real. He was there, in her apartment, holding her.

"I'm so sorry I wasn't here earlier... my flight got back late, and I went straight to the Reflecting Pool to make sure you weren't still there before I went and picked up food for the both of us... you still like Thai, right?"

"Yes," she said, her laugh of amusement muffled by the fabric of his shirt. "Of course I do."

"I missed you," he said on a sigh, resting his head gently on hers. She felt him breathing into her hair and sighing again, this time in contentment.

Her breath caught slightly at the words, and she immediately fought for speech as she got out, "Me too. I mean... I... I missed you, Booth. I... I missed you a lot."

He chuckled softly, and she re-memorized the sound, reveling in it. How stupid was she, to have ever thought that she might be able to survive without him? She needed him more than anything else. There was nothing else she knew as surely as she knew that.

"Did you have a good time on the Malukal Islands?"

She couldn't hold back another laugh as she pulled her head back enough so that she could actually look into his warm chocolate eyes. They were twinkling with happiness, and she found herself caught up in it even more than she already had been. His happiness had always doubled her own, even if she hadn't really noticed it or quantified what that meant in the past.

"Maluku," she corrected with a grin. "But you know that."

"Yeah, I do," he answered with an agreeing grin. "But, you know, I've missed being corrected all the time."

"I missed being called Bones," she admitted, tilting her head to the side as she watched for a reaction. She wasn't disappointed as his face broke into a cheeky grin and his arms squeezed slightly around her.

"See, I grew on you, didn't I?"

She simply nodded, and his eyebrows flew up in surprise.

"Really, no fight on that one, Bones?"

"I've had a long time to think," she answered instead.

"...About what?" Curiosity now had the best of him, she saw it in that oh-so-familiar crinkle between his eyebrows.

"About why things are the way they are. And I decided that I was going to be completely honest with you as soon as I saw you again, because I can't do this anymore. Not when things can happen so quickly."

His eyes were coaxing her to explain, and she hurried onwards. She wasn't going to let this turn into a conversation between old friends. She was going to get through with this right away, and not hide from it any longer. That part of her life was over.

"We both know that leaving last year had a lot more behind it than just the opportunities. I needed time to... get perspective on what was going on in my life. Maybe you did, too. Before we left, you asked me to try for something different, and I couldn't do it. But you said yourself that you aren't good with change, and... neither am I.

"Our work is dangerous, and ever since... ever since Pam shot you... I haven't been able to be properly objective. It could have happened again, at any time, and it... it could have been real. Then you had a... a brain tumor, and a coma...

"Your friend told me, before he went back to Japan, that if you were willing to risk your life for someone, then why not your happiness. I didn't know what to do about that, but now I do. Booth, I-"

"Bones." Her name from his lips, spoken so seriously, cut her off and she stared back at him, her mouth still open. She snapped it shut with an audible sound, just waiting for whatever it was he had to say. Her heart was racing, and she could feel that her legs were trembling. Her mind was still spinning with everything that she'd said and everything that was still unspoken.

"How much thought have you put into this?" he asked softly.

Her eyes blazed with determination. "I love you," she said as a response, and he reeled back, eyes wide. His mouth opened and closed a few times, no words escaping.

"Bones, are you-"

"I'm sure," she whispered. "I had a year to think about it. I had a year to realize what I was walking away from, and what I really wanted to go back to. And I won't make the same mistake again. Not when we don't know how much time we have, and we have the chance. I mean, if you still-"

"What, if I still feel the same way?" He gave a disbelieving laugh, his eyes sparkling with an indescribable joy as he leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers briefly once, twice, three times before he rested his forehead against hers and smiled warmly, her face reflecting his. "That would never change, Bones. Not if you were gone a million years instead of one."

"Humans don't live a million years, Booth," she murmured, her smile twisting up a bit more.

He swallowed the words away with a fierce kiss, and then murmured, "I love you, too, Bones," against her lips.

The words sent a shiver down her spine.

This was the beginning, she knew. What it would turn into... that was the mystery.

And if there was something she had missed almost as much as him and the rest of her family here... it was solving mysteries.

Share your thoughts? Please?

(To all my readers who are also reading my other stories... What Brings Them Together and The Isolation of a Lone Suffering... you can expect updates relatively soon, since I will no longer be distracted by new episodes. Yay for that... boo for the next few months of waiting for the return of our beloved show.)