[A/N: Here's an epilogue to send these two on their way. You have my sincere gratitude for reading here and for leaving such supportive reviews!
Have to say for the record that I meant for Booth's 'stand' in the last chapter to be one of strength and fighting for 'them.' It was a chance for him not to do what he's done on TV at times. It was a time for him to realize that he couldn't push Bones farther than she was ready. It was a chance for him to realize that her instincts would lead her to repeat the pattern of leaving and avoiding the potentially painful situation she was facing. It was a chance for him to show how well he knew her. It was an opportunity for him to display his complete faith in her. And, more importantly, it was an opportunity for her to realize that she couldn't run away from what she felt for him—even if that seemed like the safest option at the time. If I didn't convey that clearly, I hope to remedy that here.]
Chapter 33: The Reassurance in the Resolution
Temperance was collecting evidence while trying not to allow her partner to realize what she was doing. As they had moved through the airport, she had been constantly cataloguing Booth's his actions and their experiences—gathering data as only the scientist at her core knew how-trying to reassure herself that this was indeed happening and that they might have a chance at happiness in a relationship together.
Since that moment in the conference room in which Booth had taken her hand, he'd held it almost constantly. He'd released it long enough to shake Pete's hand and to thank him for giving them time to talk. But he'd recaptured her left hand in his almost immediately and had held it there ever since. She sensed the significance of this gesture. Ever since Booth had arrived, he'd been determined and persistent—not giving her the option to deny what was between them, what he knew she felt, what she'd realized too but been unable to admit—even to herself. Booth had leapt over obstacle after obstacle she'd placed in his way. He had done what she needed even if it required more than she should have asked of him.
Looking back now, she realized the error of her ways all too clearly. Recalling her actions over the last day was embarrassing for her. She'd behaved nonsensically—not logically at all. She was completely unaccustomed to being wrong and having to change her perspective. She had decided once she'd been rescued that it would only be logical for Booth to reunite with his former lover. After all, that was what had happened before. She realized now that her error had been imposing a constant upon a situation in which it hadn't applied. That error could have cost her any hope for the future she'd wanted—the future she had felt afraid to reach out and grasp. She'd used reason to shut down her hopes and dreams for it too often seemed that those frivolous wants only ended up raising expectations that were typically dashed by some occurrence or experience. She'd assumed that Booth would not persist in the battle; she'd underestimated both the man and his loyalty to her.
Fortunately, Booth had been logical and focused when she had not. Before they had left the conference room, she'd watched his eyes cloud over as he told her how angry he'd been with her and how he almost hadn't made the trip down to see her. He told her how he'd gotten her messages and lost his temper. He'd rushed to her apartment and then to the lab when he couldn't find her anywhere else. Unable to find her—and yell at her—he'd unleashed his temper on Cam and Angela. He'd berated Cam for approving her leave and Angela for not talking her into staying. After he'd made both of them so angry that he could see them both working hard to restrain themselves, he'd collapsed into a chair and dropped his head into his hands—eventually apologizing for blaming them for his problems.
He told her how Angela had sat down across from him and looked him in the eye. She'd asked him if he loved her. When he'd admitted that he did, she told him in no uncertain terms to "be a man" and tell her how he felt. Unable to forget his past failed overtures, he balked and made excuses. It had been easy to blame her and talk about how she had left, run away. But Cam had walked over and told him what he'd needed to hear, "You're both screwed up, Seeley. But it works—for both of you. Don't be pigheaded and let her get away. This might be your last chance with her. Don't be stupid and give up without doing everything you can."
Listening to him talk about his decision to pursue her was painful. She'd been shutting down her emotions but she realized that Booth had faced his head on in making the trip. He'd been brave enough to face her potential rejection. He'd been brave enough to fight for her—for them. She realized now that putting time and space between them wouldn't have solved anything. It occurred to her now that it never had before. She hadn't needed to separate herself from her feelings for him—time and time again she'd tried and failed to do so. Booth was right. They were connected. She saw that as clearly now as she could discern kerf marks or striations on her beloved bones. She was extremely grateful that Booth had seen through her façade and refused to let her attempts to push him away work. He'd fought for her. He'd withstood her resistance. He'd taken a stand for 'them' and shown her that he would remain committed to their partnership and their friendship and their… relationship… no matter what. She longed to tell him how much that meant to her but she was still too emotional to begin to find the right words. She took solace in his continued presence, his acceptance, his refusal to allow anything—even her—to sabotage their shot at finally being together.
Her brilliant mind racing and her metaphorical heart attempting to keep up, Temperance was uncharacteristically quiet. Within that silence, she focused on the evidence before her. The way that Booth still held her hand symbolized their connection, made it tangible, solidified it in a way that made her face its reality… its overpowering significance in both their lives. Again, he was doing what she needed even before she was aware of what she needed from him.
Ever chivalrous, Booth had managed to swing her bag and his own over his left shoulder, leaving his right hand free to hold her left one. Had she not been overcome with emotion, she'd have argued and tried to take the bag from him. As it was, she walked beside him, struck by how different it was to be holding her partner's hand as they traversed the airport.
As they had maneuvered through the concourse and down the small corridor leading to private jet departures, Booth had squeezed her hand from time to time and often run his thumb comfortingly upon the back of her hand as they'd walked. She knew this was elementary school-style courting, but she enjoyed it nonetheless.
Even as they'd boarded Hodgins' plane for the trip home, he'd reclaimed her hand in his and held onto it as they got settled. She'd tugged it away as she fastened her seatbelt, but he'd reclaimed it immediately after they both were safely secured in their seats. That simple gesture was a physical sign of his intent to remain connected to her. He said nothing, yet he continued to hold onto her hand.
Part of her wanted to resist his almost possessive ownership of her hand. She was unaccustomed to anyone treating her that way, and part of her bristled at the mere thought that Booth would be possessive of any part of her. Strangely, another part of her loved it. She found it fascinating that her hand seemed to fit perfectly within his—and she attributed the sentiment she felt to the rush of endorphins he generated when he latched onto her hand so possessively. She hated to admit the comfort she felt from that simple touch. Flickers of electric current ran up and down her arm and her spine whenever he touched her. She could name all the chemicals causing her to experience those sensations, but she found that she preferred to focus on the fact that it was Booth's touch causing them. Focusing on the stimulus instead of its outcomes was a refreshing change for her. And focusing on Booth now was easy. It was as if the entirety of her vision had been directed through a lens focused entirely on her partner. She was seeing a whole new side of him, and he was mesmerizing.
She'd noticed Booth's strong hands numerous times, but he had seldom touched her with them for more than a few moments. His hands were large and strong. As he held her hand in his own, she felt a few rough spots and near callouses in places—he worked with these hands and they showed the wear and tear his whole body did from years of hard work and some of the abuse he'd suffered.
Despite his strength, his touch was so tender and devoted. She'd found comfort in those hands and had seen him use them to rescue innocent people and to kill monstrous villains alike. She knew that he'd used them to restore old cars and to build grills and repair pipes. Like so many other parts of the man, the hands reflected more than just the physical form of the appendages—they showed his strength and his courage. They also symbolized his loyalty. They could wield impressive strength or stroke her skin lightly and with affection as they were doing now. His hands showed her that he was making a conscious choice to be gentle and tender with her. The smile he sent in her direction when she glanced at him told her he was content just holding her hand. There was so much depth to this man who now sat beside her being viewed so differently than he ever had by her before.
Temperance had wondered more than once what it would be like to feel Booth's hands roam her body in intimate ways. Now caught up in the simple yet intense touch of his hand upon her own, she found it impossible not to long for him to use those strong, capable, gentle hands to explore her body.
Realizing that her intense focus on his hands had caused him to display the blatantly cocky smile that graced his features, she tugged on her hand to free it. However, her partner had other plans. He held tightly to her hand and pulled it up to his lips, planting tender kisses on the back of her hand, causing her to stop breathing for a long moment.
Sensing her tension, Booth dropped his hand back down to his lap so that he could hold hers comfortably in his own. He smiled at her and then stared intently at her smaller hand in his own. "Your hands are like the rest of you, they're beautiful, Bones," he whispered, taking time to scrutinize her hand more closely. He covered her hand with his other one and touched it tenderly as he spoke to her, "They're so soft and warm… They're small, but I know how strong they are. You do amazing and sometimes disgusting things with these hands. They can be gentle enough to handle delicate bones and to hug Parker, but I know that you could chop me in two with them if you wanted. Your hands are like the rest of you—an amazing combination of skills and talents and strengths. But mostly it just feels incredible holding onto them."
How could she avoid smiling at such genuinely honest sentiment? She allowed herself to give in to the dreamy smile gracing his features. The wattage of his grin shot up exponentially when she did.
She tensed involuntarily. Letting go, allowing anyone to see the emotions he engendered in her wasn't comfortable or familiar. The fear she'd tamped down rose back up again. She didn't know how to do this… how to spend quiet, intimate time adoring her partner. She'd fought those urges for years. She'd thought that a situation like this would never happen. Even when he'd confessed his love for her before, Agent Patterson had been kidnapped and they'd been unable to pursue what she had so desperately wanted. What she still wanted. What part of her was afraid to realize she wanted more than anything else she'd ever wanted before.
Yet she was perplexed about how to handle this situation. This was Booth, and yet she wasn't sure how to do this… this relationship… not with Booth. She was accustomed to leaping ahead to the intercourse with partners. Part of her longed to do just that and wondered if he'd consent and possess her completely, but the larger part reminded her that this man had always taken the time to adore her in ways that no other man ever had before. She would follow his lead. They would figure out the appropriate pace together. She would put her own insecurities and fears aside and follow Booth. She trusted that he'd show her if she were making missteps.
Sensing her fear and pensiveness, Booth squeezed her hand again and then released it. He wanted to give her some metaphorical space to come to her own conclusions. She appreciated the fact that he knew her so well.
She sat, reeling from the chill that swept over her from the loss of the heat of his contact. That feeling was just another signal to remind her of the effect her partner had on her—and could continue to have on her.
She heard and then watched as her partner stretched out beside her. As if making the point that he was just her partner relaxing there beside her, he exaggerated his movements, stretching the full length of his form and sighing as the tension was released from his body. Finally finished, he sat still for a long moment before turning to her and smiling almost—but not quite-nervously at her.
"You okay, Bones?"
Despite the unfamiliarity of their newly professed connection, this awkwardness, this tension made both of them uncomfortable. She realized that Booth was trying hard to behave normally. She also realized that she needed to alleviate his concerns. Still, when she looked up and into the expressive eyes of her partner, she found that she had trouble speaking. She nodded almost shyly and then glanced away. Booth had just begun worrying again when he felt his partner slip her hand back into his again. That surprise and the related jolt of electricity it produced had him grinning again in no time.
"So I'm not scaring you away with all the sappiness?" he asked, and she watched the tips of his ears redden as he waited for her answer.
Suddenly finding her voice, she responded, "I had suspected that you might be prone to exaggerated romantic gestures and sentiments."
"Oh yeah?" he asked, chuckling at himself as he did so.
"You are thorough in your caretaking for all of those within your inner circle. I've seen how affection you are with Parker. I know how overprotective you are. I… I've seen the workings of your metaphorical heart."
She paused for a long moment, hating the fact that she was suddenly flooded with images of his being with the other women in his life. He'd always been discreet, but she had noticed his tender interactions with those women.
She hadn't even realized that her expression had grown sad. But she felt the tips of his fingers graze her chin and gasped slightly as he turned her face back toward his own.
"Talk to me, Bones. Don't sit there thinking about other women in my past. I'm not. I want to focus on the future… on sharing it with you."
She smiled and laughed lightly at him. "Too much?" he asked, causing her to laugh out loud.
"I just need time to adjust to this side of your personality," she said with a smile as he almost blushed before her.
"I've… We've got time," he said as he gazed at her, adoration brightening his features.
"Mr. Booth… Dr. Brennan… we are at a safe altitude now. You may remove your seatbelts and make yourselves more comfortable. Let the chef know if you'd like to something to eat. We have a two-hour flight. I'll buzz back in when we start preparing for landing. Enjoy your flight," the pilot spoke over the intercom.
Unbuckling his seatbelt, Booth stood up and stretched again. When he looked down, he saw his partner staring at him thoughtfully. "Like what you see, Bones?"
Blushing slightly, she smiled and stood up beside him. Instinctively, he wrapped an arm around her and pulled her closer to him. "This part… this awkward part… it won't last long. We're still you and me, Bones. We just need some time to adjust to what this means, that's all."
She smiled and turned in his arms to face him. "I find it interesting how much you've spoken to me today, Booth. After so many years of virtual silence on all matters about us, you've become quite talkative."
"Sorry… I guess I'm still a little bit nervous, too. And I just want to make sure you're okay."
"I'm okay," she said as she gazed up at him tenderly.
It wasn't macho for grown men to pass out, but he swore that anyone could have knocked him over easily when she looked at him like that. His heart raced as he took in the sparkle in her eyes and the genuinely happy smile. He was captivated seeing a side of her he'd never seen before. He could get addicted to seeing Bones smile up at him that way. He figured he already was.
"You're okay. I'm okay. Is this… okay?" he whispered as he leaned closer, his breath tickling her cheek.
She nodded almost imperceptibly before reaching up to brush her lips against his. Drawn to her warmth and her touch, he dove deeper into the kiss, encouraged by her touch and the fervor with which she'd begun kissing him.
The first time they'd kissed had been wonderful but tainted by tequila and its after effects. The second time they'd kissed, they'd had an audience and both of them had been afraid to allow the heat that threatened to be unleashed have its reign. The third time they'd kissed, he'd been too desperate and she'd thought their love was forbidden. And then she'd lied to him about her true feelings. The fourth time they kissed—this time, none of the times before mattered. They'd said enough—most of what was needed. They weren't drinking or avoiding their feelings or forcing a situation that wasn't right at the time. This time was perfect. It was the right time. It made all the waiting and the pain and the worry and the confusion worth it. This time each kissed the other tenderly and honestly and as if they'd never felt the touch of one another… as if they were kissing for the very first time.
As if the kissing itself wouldn't have been dizzying, doing so at high altitude affected them even more. Stumbling together when the plane hit some minor turbulence, the couple laughed and crept over to the sofa and plopped down onto the solid surface.
Each turned to the other, and they both laughed again when neither one of them managed to say what had been intended. Booth started to say something, but his attention was drawn to his partner's lush, swollen lips. He licked his own and watched as his partner's eyes flashed with something hot and dangerous. As he'd considered dozens of times before but always stopped himself, he turned and kissed her again deeply, drawing her body over and onto his lap so that he could hold her more closely. She deepened the kiss, showing him how much he'd always underestimated the power of the attraction now unleashed between them.
He wasn't sure how or when he managed to come up for air, but he gazed at her in amazement when he did so. "Wow," was all that he was able to say.
Smiling at his reaction to their first real kiss, she slipped closer to him and attempted a second, determined to eclipse the first kiss and dazzle him further.
"Wow," she managed to say as he pulled back to gaze at her in amazement once again. Now caught up in the heady realization that he and Bones were together and kissing, Booth pulled her tightly to him and started peppering her face and neck with kisses that were more chaste but just as determined. She moaned slightly in response, and he nearly lost his mind with the way his mind began imagining the reality of what he'd convinced himself would be impossible.
"We're not… you know… not this trip, Bones. Too soon," Booth mumbled between kisses.
"Then we'll have to book a vacation soon and ask Hodgins for the jet. I've always wanted to join the Sky High club," his partner whispered as she began to explore his ear and neckline with her capable, hungry lips.
"Mmm.. Mile High," Bones. "But I have a feeling that's how you and I are gonna feel whenever we're that close. We won't need a plane or anything else to fuel this fire. Just you and me, Baby. Nothing else matters."
"Should we try that experiment now, just to satisfy our curiosity?" she asked seductively. Seeing her lust-filled eyes made it even harder for Booth to deny her. But this mattered too much. It was just too important.
"I want that as much if not more than you, Bones. But let's take our time. This will be different," he said, punctuating that phrase with a tender kiss.
"By its very nature, this relationship will be different, Booth. But that sort of sentiment isn't necessary. I find that I very much look forward to achieving physical intimacy with you. I usually judge the success of my relationships upon that sort of compatibility," she stated as clinically as she'd have pointed out specific bones from a victim to him.
He smiled at how honest she could be no matter how awkward it made talking to her about sensitive subjects. "Well, we'll be plenty compatible in that department. But for now, we'll just have to provide you with a whole new set of criteria, Bones. You deserve romance and someone who adores you for more than just your gorgeous body."
"Don't you think I am the best judge of what I need… what I want? I am… a genius," she insisted.
"Patience, Bones. It won't be long. But when that happens, I want there to be no more doubt, no hesitation, no confusion or worry on your part. Let me show you how much I care about you, okay?"
"I suppose that will be satisfactory," she whispered, nestling her head in the strong, warm space above his clavicle.
"I really do love you, Bones," he whispered, wrapping his arms around her more tightly and kissing her forehead tenderly.
Her smile was sincere and full of emotion. She reached out and touched his face tenderly… her expression betraying her wonder and near disbelief that they were actually sitting their together and discussing their future.
"Thank you for following me. I… I'm sorry I ran away from you. I…."
"Doesn't matter, Bones. The past is past. I want to focus on moving forward… moving on… with you."
Tears filled her eyes and she hugged him tightly. "Me, too," she whispered before kissing his cheek.
She wasn't ready to say those words yet, but he wasn't disappointed. He'd wait until she really meant them. He knew that would be more than worth it. And, for the first time ever, he imagined that one day she really would.
Bones leaned up and kissed him lightly and then relaxed back into his embrace. He wanted to freeze the moment and just sit there with her forever. Now that she was in his arms, he didn't think he'd ever want to let go.
They sat together in companionable silence as their mutual hopes for a happy future soared even higher than the jet now transporting them safely home together.
[A/N: Thanks for reading! You guys are amazing!]