Sergeant Major Booth stepped off of the plane into the warm sunshine and took a deep breath of the American air at Dulles. Full of carbon monoxide and smog he exhaled quickly, glad to be home. The rest of the soldiers in his regiment exited and like him paused as their boots touched the tarmac. Home. The word meant so much more than most people realized and they were glad that they'd finally arrived. "Alright guys, I know you have family and friends waiting inside to welcome you back, but I want to say something first," he spoke to them as they all finally debarked from the plane and huddled loosely around him, "It was a privilege and an honor to serve with each and every one of you and I want to thank you for all the times you had my back." He stepped back and saluted them, although he wasn't an officer, the symbolic gesture was incredibly moving, especially when they saluted him back in turn. As one entity they turned and began trotting towards the airport terminal, as they got closer, they began to recognize individual family members, wives, children, parents, and they began to run faster. Booth took his time; he knew there was no one to greet him here. The person waiting for him would be somewhere else entirely.
Once he'd recovered his duffle bag from the carousel, he walked out the front doors, no longer a soldier and a member of the United States Army, instead he was again another member of another government institution and although still in the only uniform he'd worn for 365 days, he was anxious to change into the last uniform he hoped he'd ever wear. First though, first he was going to the reflecting pool. They had arranged to meet there, and the last email he had from her confirmed the time. Although that had been over 3 months ago and he'd been concerned at first, he knew how steadfast and determined she could be when she was focused. He guessed that she would contact him if things were going to change. Hailing a cab, he helped the driver stow his duffle and then climbed into the back seat. The cab smelled of stale popcorn and body odor, relaxing against the back of the seat, he was never gladder to smell a memory of DC than he was right then.
He closed his eyes for the short ride, one of his most crucial skills was the ability to take short power naps and since he hadn't slept at all on the plane because of anticipation, he now needed to recharge his batteries slightly. As soon as his eyes were closed his brain turned on its inner movie projector and images of his partner, his Bones fluttered across the inside of his lids. Her beauty and grace, combined with her naiveté and her steel backbone made her a formidable woman and he was going to move heaven and earth to make her realize that she was the woman for him. They'd talked a few times over the past year and yet had never touched on the one topic that weighed on both their minds the most. Neither of them wanted to acknowledge the elephant in the room that was best left to face to face interaction.
The cabbie pulled over and told Booth they were there, snapping awake instantly, he paid and hooked his duffle over his shoulder, more scared and anxious now than he'd ever been in Afghanistan. Strolling casually under the canopy of trees on the wide walkway he was a little disappointed to see that he was the first one there, looking at his watch, he sighed, he was still a little early. He tucked the bag down next to the bench and greeted the coffee vendor, even after a year he still remembered him, "Agent Booth, that's a different look for you isn't it?" he said, pouring his black coffee.
Booth chuckled and said, "I traded one uniform for another and now I'm ready to change back, thanks for the coffee Manny." He sipped and smiled, "Still tastes great, way better than anything I got overseas."
Manny laughed and said, "Is Dr. Brennan back yet? I heard that she was gone as well."
"She's actually meeting me here soon; I'll send her over for her regular when she gets here Manny, thanks again." Booth tipped him and strolled back to the bench. Manny smiled and nodded at the young agent, he'd watched the two of them for the past few years and even he could see that they should be together. He was an old man, but he wasn't blind. They were so right for each other, if only they'd realize it too. Turning to the next customer Manny was soon busy in the midday rush he looked forward to on cooler lazy days like this.
Booth sat down on the bench, his feet crunching some leaves that had fallen prematurely, looking out across the monument district he felt at peace, he was glad to be home. He loved it here and would be perfectly happy if he never left again. He thought about calling Parker while he waited for Bones, but noticing the time knew that he would still be in school. He would just show up this evening at Rebecca's house instead, that would make for a great surprise for his son. Listening to the birds sing in the trees and the rustle of leaves on the slight breeze relaxed Booth and he closed his eyes to absorb it all, the sounds of American traffic, joggers tread on the walkway, bicyclists swooshing by, the occasional squeal of a child and the click of camera's, not to mention just the interaction of the people. So very different from where he'd been the past year, he absorbed it all. The breeze shifted and a unique scent drifted across his face, he inhaled deeply and smiled, his eyes still closed he said, "Hi Bones."
Slowly, he opened his eyes and there she was. Her hair was slightly darker and shorter, but her eyes were just as bright and blue, her skin was tanner than he remembered seeing it and she'd lost weight. Not a lot, no one else would even notice most likely, but he did. She was wearing tan shorts, a white tucked in blouse, white socks and dark brown hiking boots. She looked like an ad for Eddie Bauer, but he could see the faint sweat stains on the collar, the smudges of dirt on the shorts and the gloves sticking out of her back pocket. She smiled at him and sat down beside him, barely disturbing the air. She reached over and took his hand in hers. Booth relaxed, finally comfortable and at ease now that she was back beside him. He reached over to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear, but she beat him to it and tucked it back herself. They sat there silently for a few minutes just absorbing each other's nearness. He held up his mostly empty cup of coffee and asked her if she wanted one, the two of them looked over at Manny and Booth waved to him, Manny waved back before turning to another customer. She shook her head no and he put his hand down.
Booth was mesmerized at seeing her in front of him, he rasped his thumb over the back of her hand, and enjoyed the smooth texture. After having nothing but a picture to look at he was in sensory overload with her so near him, her intoxicating scent a mixture of vanilla and sandalwood, her clear, intelligent gaze meeting his. "I almost don't know what to say," he started, "I mean, I feel like I'm on a blind date or something." He laughed and she joined him, nodding in agreement.
"The last time we talked by email, you'd told me that your team had identified some of the remains and were being interviewed by the Journal, that must have been something, I know I won't understand any of it, but I'd like to read it when it's published." He knew he was rambling, but he was so nervous and unsure of himself, he'd planned to tell her that being gone from her for the past year was the worst kind of torture he could have imagined and that he would wait for her however long it took, but for some reason he couldn't form the words.
He told her stories of being in camp and of some of his men; she laughed and encouraged him to continue. Eventually the shadows began to lengthen and the sounds of the day coming to a close started up. Manny locked up his cart and waved as he turned to make his way to the bus stop, they both waved back and Booth said, "I missed Manny's coffee didn't you? It's funny how the little things are the things you miss the most isn't it?"
"Booth, I have to go, my time is up."
"What do you mean you have to go Bones? Go where? You just got here, I thought we could go get some Thai food and some beer and catch up. I need, well, I need to talk to you about some things Bones."
She smiled sadly at him and stood up, still holding his hand with hers, she leaned over and kissed his cheek, "I'm sorry, I was only able to stay for a little while, I didn't want you to think that I'd forgotten that we were to meet her, but it's time for me to go now."
He grabbed her hand and held tightly, "Bones, you can't go, I need you. Please, stay a little longer. Please?" His dark eyes pleaded with hers, his face twisted in anguish.
"Booth, I believe now. I didn't before, but I do now and you were right all along, about all of it. I have few regrets about what has happened in my life, my biggest one by far was fighting you and everything you tried to share with me for so long. I was stupid and I hope that you can forgive me. It's everything you said it would be, and someday you'll see it too. I'll wait for you at this same bench when that day comes Booth. I love you." She kissed him again and released his hand as she walked away.
"Bones! No wait!" he shouted standing up.
"Mommy, who is that soldier talking to?"
Booth stopped speaking, distracted by a little girl's voice, he looked over at her.
"No one Cassie, come on, let's get home, Daddy is waiting for us." The little girl's mom tugged on her hand as they passed the bench. "I think he's talking to that lady." Cassie said.
"What lady?" her mom asked, looking around. The only people nearby were too far away to speak to, and aside from her and Cassie the soldier was the only person there. She was a little worried, seeing him in uniform, talking out loud to no one, but figured that he was just another crazy person in a crazy world.
"The lady right there by the coffee cart, in the shorts." Cassie said pointing. Brennan turned and smiled at the girl and waved her fingers at her, Cassie waved back and her mom again tugged on her hand, "Come on Cassie, there's no one there. Let's go." Cassie gave in and followed her mom, but turned back to see that Bones was still there and the soldier was still looking at her too. Booth watched both the girl and her mom and Bones as they walked away. Just as she reached the trees Bones turned back and said, "I knew you wouldn't quit Booth, I'm glad you came today. I've been waiting to see you for the longest time. Kiss Parker for me, tell Angela I love her, and I'll see you soon then." and then she was gone.
Booth stared into the spot where she'd walked away for a long time, as his mind tumbled around, finally landing on the phone call he'd gotten four days ago. Four days before his return home.
"Sarge-phone." The young corporal called out as Booth walked by the open tent.
Grabbing the satellite phone he barked into it, "Booth." He was on his way to the communications tent anyway, he'd been trying to get a hold of Bones and there was some sort of breakdown between the internet links they used.
"Seeley?" A man's voice questioned, familiar to him but odd that he would hear it here.
"Hacker?" he responded.
"Yes Seeley, its Andrew, listen I know that this isn't the best time to be calling you, but I"
"Andrew-you realize I'm in Afghanistan and I'm not really going to be able to assist you on whatever case you're calling about, how about you give me a couple of days, Bones and I will be able to help then." He couldn't fathom why the deputy director of the FBI was calling him from halfway around the world.
"Seeley, that's why I'm calling." He started to speak again and Booth interrupted again.
"About a case Hacker?"
"Seeley-I'm not calling about a case, my call is more personal than that..." Once again Booth interrupted, "Is it Parker? Is he okay?" he was starting to get agitated now.
"No Seeley, it's not Parker…"
"Why are you calling me Seeley?" It had just dawned on him that Hacker had never used his first name before, people rarely did. Cam did but it was from years of familiarity more than anything. His heart slowed slightly and his stomach dropped as he realized that Hacker wouldn't just call about Parker, and besides Rebecca would call him if Parker was hurt. His palms got sweaty as he gripped the phone.
"Seeley-I wanted to call you before you came back to the states, I'm sorry that I have to do this at all," he hesitated and Booth ground out, "What happened Hacker?"
There was a long pause and then almost too quietly to hear Andrew began to speak again, "Seeley, the day before yesterday there was a plane crash between the islands and the mainland, it disintegrated on impact… there were no survivors."
"But, she'll be okay right? I mean she's still probably on the island cleaning up last minute stuff, we're supposed to meet back in DC in four days." Booth said as if he hadn't heard anything Hacker had just said.
"No Booth, she's not okay. She and Miss Wick and their team died two days ago. I'm so sorry Seeley, I know this has got to be very difficult for you to hear and believe me I wish I didn't have to tell you, but we all thought it would be best for you to know before you came home. The bureau will put you on administrative leave for as long as you want and…Seeley, I'm sorry. I know how much you cared about her." He stopped and waited for a response.
"Thank you Hacker thanks." Booth said and hung up the phone. He tossed it back into the tent and went to his own tent. Pulling out the letters he'd printed out from their emails he re-read them almost obsessively until they'd boarded the plane. The FBI had notified his commanding officers about the death of his partner, so they cut him slack the last couple of days that he was there. His men gave him space and he relished it, he used it to think of the many things he was going to say to her when he met her at the bench.
Booth looked around, almost alone now on the walkway between the monuments. He still smelled the lingering scent of her perfume and could still feel her lips on his cheek. Twilight had come and the lights around the monuments were starting to flicker on. Booth looked at the trees hoping that she would have re-appeared, the whole time that he'd been talking to her, he'd never told her that he loved her and most of all he never told her goodbye. He put his head in his hands, his shoulders shuddering as he sobbed, alone on the bench where they were to meet. His hand reached into his pocket and he pulled out the official letter sent out by the Jeffersonian regarding the death of Dr. Temperance Brennan and her colleagues. He'd read it so many times in the past four days he could quote it verbatim. His tears began to slow their descent down his cheeks and he stood and tucked the letter into his pocket, grabbing his duffle bag he began to make his way to the street to find a cab, to take him to Parker and to the rest of his life. As he turned his back on the reflection pool he heard his name sighed on the breeze, turning quickly he saw her once more, sitting on the bench, smiling sadly. She raised her hand and waved and then was gone. "Goodbye Bones," he said as he hiked the bag up and continued on to the street.