May 20, 2011

Washington, DC

Brennan was early for their meeting at the bench, but Booth was earlier still. She slowed, studied him. Dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, his posture was relaxed with his left arm stretched out across the back of the bench and his right hand holding his cup. She wasn't close enough yet to see clearly his eyes, but something about him spoke of weariness.

Of course he was tired. He was no doubt experiencing jetlag, as well as whatever the effects were of coming home from a war zone.

But he was home.

A wave of dizziness she attributed to her own jetlag rolled over her and she stopped, leaned against a tree for a moment where he couldn't see her. If she'd had been having nightmares about him dying before they both left, what had made her think that her being in the Maluku Islands while he was in a war zone – because of her – would stop the dreams from happening?

She'd told no one about the nightmares, of course. There had been no one to tell. She'd also believed they would stop after she grew acclimated to the dig, to not seeing him every day. It was natural, after all, for her to miss someone she was used to spending so much time with.

It had taken three months before it occurred to her that while she thought often of her family, Cam, Angela, Hodgins, and yes, even Sweets, that Booth was the only one she regularly found herself wanting to share things with. And she'd dreamed of none of the others.

At the sixth month mark, she'd realized that while many of the dreams were still nightmares about his death, not all of them were. And at seven months, she'd admitted that some of the latter ones brought her comfort. That it was harder to crawl out of her tent on the mornings after those dreams.

Sometime in the ninth month, without even realizing it, she started counting down the days until the dig would be over. Until she'd see him again.

And that was when she'd understood she loved him. Was in love with him.

She rested her head against the tree for another moment, acknowledged the possibility that it wasn't jetlag that had caused the lightheadness.

Then she straightened, stepped back out on to the sidewalk and briskly walked toward him.

He saw her, and stood, and her pace slowed. Not because she didn't want to see him, but because …she didn't know why. But when he started toward her, she sped up again, until they were just a meter or so apart, and then they both simply stopped. He did look tired, and older than it seemed a year should make him. He was staring intently back at her, though, and whatever he saw brought a slight smile to his face.

Uncertain, and remembering that he'd seemed hesitant to hug her when they'd parted the year before, she started to lift a hand toward him. He ignored it, closed the distance between them and enfolded her in a tight, hard hug.

Wondering why she was trembling, Brennan pressed her face into his shoulder and simply hung on. He might have looked older, but he felt the same. Hard muscles, clean scent. Booth.

"Bones," he said quietly, and nothing else. She felt movement that could only be him pressing a kiss against her hair.

Finally, leaving her arms around his waist, she pulled away enough to see his face.

His eyes were moist. She saw that in a brief moment before he blinked and looked away, then stepped back. Before dismay could surface, though, he took her hand and threaded his fingers through hers. The continued contact felt good. Necessary.

He turned, and tugging her with him, started back to the bench, and for the first time she realized just how busy the Mall was. Most people were simple diverting around them, but a few had slowed and apparently been watching their reunion, with smiles on their faces. Ignoring them, she turned her attention back to the man who'd finally let go of her hand so he could bend down and retrieve the cup he'd dropped when he'd started toward her.

They settled on the bench and simply sat looking at one another in silence for a long moment. It wasn't an awkward silence, Brennan realized.

"How are you?" he finally asked.

"I'm experiencing the expected effects of travel across multiple time zones, but apart from that, I'm well. How are you?" The glint she recognized as humor came into his eyes, though she didn't know what she'd said that was funny.

The glint faded, and he glanced away for a moment, then back. "The same, I guess. Glad to be home – how about you?"

She didn't understand the question. Hadn't she just told him how she was?

Recognizing her confusion, the slight smile came back, then again faded. "Are you glad to be back, Bones?"

"Yes, of course." How could he doubt that?

"When you left, you were pretty burned out on being here, working murders. Cam and I thought you might want to concentrate more on the original reason the Jeffersonian hired you, do less consulting work for the FBI."

The question shocked her. Do less work with him, when resuming their partnership had been a priority for her for months? She shook her head, but then hesitated, uncertain how to answer his question. "I did need a break, and the dig was challenging and rewarding," she said slowly. "But after a while, I realized that I was missing doing something that mattered."

"The dig mattered."

Grateful he could say so, she nodded. "It did. But not on the level of what we do, catching murderers and making certain they can't harm anyone else. I missed that." And him. She'd missed the man she did those things with, desperately. But didn't know how to say so.

"I'm glad," he said simply. "But if you ever need another break from our cases, say so, okay?"

Brennan nodded, and they fell silent again. Then he asked, "What about the other thing?" At her look of confusion, he continued carefully, "Did the dig reassure you that you're still a scientist?"

She thought back to what he'd said at the airport the day they parted, and nodded. It was odd, really, how little she'd thought of that question after that day. "I've led other digs before, though never so large or important," she said slowly. "But this one seemed to go more smoothly, and I was finally able to determine why." She looked at him, met his eyes. "When talking with the others, when organizing them, I kept thinking of you, of how you would have done it. And of how Cam runs the lab. So often I'd not seen the point, but I found myself doing something similar and it all just seemed to go more smoothly." She frowned, still not completely sure why it all worked.

"And that convinced you that you can be a scientist and have people in your life?"

"I don't entirely understand it, but it appears that that is correct."

"What's the point of science if people don't matter? If they don't, then changing the way we view ourselves doesn't matter, either, and nothing you discovered in Mukuku is important. That's the difference between you and Taffet, Bones. You just spent a year doing something important on the dig, and before that, you solved murders, while she's rotting in a jail cell."

"It's possible to be a dispassionate scientist without being a murderer, Booth."

"Yeah, but how likely are you to do important science, stuff that matters, if you don't care about people? And you are dispassionate when you have to be – isn't that what you do when you – what was Sweets' term? Compartmentalize?"

How could he, a non-scientist if there ever was one, understand her so well? She slowly nodded. "Maybe."

"No 'maybe' about it. I worked with you for five years. I'm not a scientist, and you're not like me, Bones, but your heart is open enough."

And there it was. The other thing they needed to talk about. Her stomach churned and she looked down, wished for a cup of coffee. Even if she'd not tasted it, it would have given her something to hold, something to do with her hands.

"I see," he said quietly.

Confused, she looked up. He was looking at her, but his expression was once more the distant one he'd worn at times after their conversation that night in front of the Hoover building. It was a look she associated with sadness, and didn't understand why. Then his words from the year before came back to her, and his belief that her rejection had meant he wasn't 'that guy' for her. She'd given him hope, as she'd intended to do, in their farewell at the airport, hoping that she'd find the courage to tell him how she felt about him after a year to process it. And now, her cowardice was once again hurting him, once again communicating the wrong thing.

"Booth, I don't know how to do relationships. You know that," she blurted. "If we try, I'll just wind up hurting you even more than I already have. That's what I meant about protecting you from me."

He blinked at her, as if for once he was the one not understanding the words and despair swamped her. What if she were wrong about what he was thinking and feeling? He'd not yet said much about his experiences while they were separated. What if she told him she loved him, in a way she had never told anyone else, and he'd changed his mind while they were apart? Was this how he'd felt that night when she'd hurt him so badly?

The world had tilted for a moment for Booth, his mind locked on that one little word: if. If we try. They were in a park, surrounded by open air, and he suddenly couldn't breathe, afraid to hope that she was saying what it sounded like she was saying.

Desperately hurt, he'd told her that night in front of the Hoover building that he had to move on, had to find someone who'd love him. He'd known before they parted that day at the airport that it was useless, that there would never be anyone else for him but Temperance Brennan. And then her comment about being unable to see how she could be what he needed for her to be had given him the barest glimmer of hope, hope that had been his only companion during a year of long nights in Afghanistan.

And now, if.

Sometimes, missions required you to sneak up on your enemy an inch at time, crawling so slowly through sand and fleas and God knew what that it hardly seemed you were moving at all. More than once, he'd spent hours covering just a few feet of ground, giving all new meaning to the concept of patience. That's what this felt like, really. With that one word, if, they'd moved another quarter inch toward the goal.

But it was progress, and he was nothing if not a patient man.

Her expression faltered, and she looked away, and he understood that while he'd been sitting there in amazed shock, she'd thought …something else. He didn't know what, as it didn't seem possible for her to wonder if he'd changed his mind. Wasn't 'I love Bones' stamped permanently across his forehead?

Maybe not.

He reached over, took her hand, threaded their fingers together again. She looked at him, her expression the vulnerable one so few others saw.

"What I said that night about moving on…" he looked away for a moment, then back. And understood that this, much more so than that night a year earlier, was the moment when he was taking the gamble of a lifetime. "It's never going to happen. It's always going to be you." He took a breath. "Bones, do you love me?"

Hope failed when she glanced away, but then she swallowed and turned back to him. "Yes," she said, her voice firm. "But Booth…" she seemed to be floundering. "How do I know if what I feel is the same thing you feel? How do I know if it will be enough for thirty years, let alone forty or fifty?"

He thought about it, tried to find the words. "Maybe you don't. Maybe in thirty years, I won't feel exactly what I'm feeling right now. But I'm always going to love you. It's a promise as much as anything, Bones."

"You always keep your promises," she murmured.

"So do you. You don't make many, but you keep the ones you make."

"I'm bad at relationships. I don't know how to be what you need."

Still creeping across that desert ground, slowly, but the goal was in sight. He could feel it. "What is it you think I need from you?" She frowned, and he continued, "I need you. Just you. Your honesty, your compassion, your brilliance, your humor…you. I just need you."

An expression of wonder settled onto her face, and his heart ached a little in response. How had he not told her those things?

"I'll hurt you," she said. "I already have. I don't know how to be in the kind of relationship you're after."

"I'll hurt you, too, sometimes." He squeezed her hand. "You make it sound like there's a rule book to relationships, Bones. There's not. What we have now isn't what others have, and that's okay. I mean, we do okay as partners, don't we?" She nodded, and he continued, "We'll do the same thing in this. We'll work out what's right for us. You just have to give us a chance."

She frowned again, the same expression she wore when she was trying to solve a problem, and, not for the first time, he wondered what it would be like have that attention focused on him while they made love. He looked around, realized that whatever came next in this conversation, he didn't want it to happen on a park bench.

Their hands still entwined, he stood, tugged her up. "Let's walk."

She looked around, apparently coming to the same conclusion he had, and nodded. He tossed his cup in the trash and they started down the sidewalk. Neither spoke, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. She needed time to think things through, and he needed time to ponder the miracle he'd just been given.

He had no clear destination in mind, though the path they were on would take them back to the SUV. But then he saw a small copse of trees and knew he couldn't wait one more minute. He nudged her off the sidewalk into the shadows and saw from the sideways glance she gave him that she fully understood what he was doing. The fact that she quickened her pace increased his anticipation, while the fear that this was a dream – one of thousands – finally loosened its grip.

He leaned back against a tree, deep in the shadows, and pulled her to him, another knot in his gut unraveling when she slid her hands up his chest and around his neck. The problem with the shade was that he could no longer see her eyes, but as he brushed her lips with his, he decided it didn't matter.

Their first kiss had been all heat and fire, the second had been a joke and the third had broken his heart. This one started out tender, his only thought to show her the wonder he was feeling at having her in his arms and knowing she wanted to be there. But moments into it, desperation and need took over for both of them, the kiss deepening to something else entirely. Something that even the deep shade of the trees wasn't adequate cover for.

Still pressed against him, she pulled away from the kiss, made her way down his jaw to his neck, where she focused on the pulse beating rapidly at the base of his throat. She nuzzled him, then whispered, "Booth?"

His mind clouded by the reality that he was holding her, that it was no dream, it took a moment to realize she was speaking to him. "What?"

"Take me somewhere and make love to me. Show me how two people break the laws of physics."

His brain addled, it took a moment to remember the conversation she was referring to, and he had to swallow against emotion storming through him. "It would be my pleasure." But while still holding her, he shifted her back, just a bit, and lowered his forehead to hers. "And we'll go, as soon as I can walk."

She gave a choked laugh, and he pressed a kiss against her forehead. "I love you, so damn much."

She stilled, and turned her face up to him. He couldn't see her face clearly, but a bit of what light there was highlighted the tear on her cheek and he brought his thumb up and brushed it away. "Don't do that. Not now. Don't cry."

"You've not said it, you know. Not since right after your surgery, when you meant it as a partner."

"Said what?"

"That you love me."

Dumbstruck, he stared into the shadows that hid her eyes. Of course he'd said it. He'd said it that night in front of the Hoover. Hell, he'd said it just now, by the bench. Then his thoughts slowed. He had said the words, hadn't he? He thought back to both conversations and nearly groaned. "I botched everything about that night," he muttered. He leaned down, kissed her. "I do love you. So much it's felt like I was wearing a sign. But from now on, I'll tell you every day. Twice a day. Every time I see you. Every time I think of you."

She laughed, and laid her head back on his chest. "That would be excessive, particularly if we don't want people to know about our new relationship."

He stilled. "Why won't we want people to know?"

"So we can continue working together. You do want to continue as partners, don't you?"

She sounded anxious, and again he wished for just a little more light. "Of course. I'm not working with anyone else. But they'll let us work together. The bureau's policy has shifted the last few years – as long as there's no question of harassment, they won't care. Hell, Hacker even asked me if we were dating before he asked you out that first time."

"He did?"

"Yes. And do you really think Sweets would have prompted that conversation that night if he knew we couldn't work together?"

She cocked her head to one side. "No, I suppose not. It's good, though, that that will not be an issue. I have no desire to work with a different partner." Before he could respond, she said, "So can you walk yet?"

He gave a strangled laugh and kissed her lightly. "Let's find out."

In answer, she took his hand and pulled him toward the sunlight.