The Happily Ever After
Author's Note: There is angst. And there is Hannah. Deal with the reality of both.
But know that the title is the endgame. Consider it an early Christmas present. (Hanukkah. Kwanzaa. Take your pick.)
Disclaimer: I own only my own bones. The TV show belongs to someone else.
He's done this once before and it did not turn out well. But lately, his choices have gone well. Very well. He's got a beautiful woman gracing his bed and his life. His son has accepted her. He has pushed past the awkwardness with his partner and they have forged a new kind of partnership.
And she hasn't asked anything of him.
He has pushed her out of his mind. It is best not to go down that path and revisit the pain. The futility. The hurt.
He knows just how much pain their choices have cost each of them and really, he does not have the strength to go there again. They have hurt each other and to go down that path again would only lead to a complete severing of their partnership.
And he does not want that. No.
His gut was so wrong then. And as much as he feels like he is somehow treading water now, he has decided to trust in fate once again.
Everything is leading up to this one moment and when she calls out to him, reminds him of how they met, he feels that twinge in his stomach which he is sure means this is right. In his pocket he clutches the box with the ring and reminds himself it is there, this is real.
Love is in his arms and real. This is not some imagined coma dream or some waking hope. This is Hannah. This is love. Uncomplicated.
He leads her into the restaurant and they follow the waiter to the table he has reserved just for this occasion. When they get to the table, he pulls out the chair and folds his mind into his sniper mode. He has a target in sight and the turbulence in his gut must be quelled somehow, so he orders a bottle of wine before he even sits.
"So this is how you show a girl a good time, soldier?"
The light teasing only helps to stir the anxiety in his stomach and he stills the nervousness in his hands below the table, wiping the sweat from his palms before he reaches out and takes her hand.
Somehow his nervousness is transmitted to her and she pulls her hand away and covers the action by reaching for her water glass.
Part of him is glad that she is so intuitive as to know this is an important occasion. Part of him wonders why his stomach is spasming.
He asks about her day, the story she was pursuing. She asks about the case.
They talk, but don't really talk. He seems to be drowning in the noises within the restaurant. Drowning in the nervousness.
They are eating, but he barely tastes the food.
She is beautiful and engaging. Her smile steadies him. He finds a ledge and begins the slow climb back toward even ground. He finds his footing halfway through the meal and his stomach begins to settle.
His heartbeat steadies—he wasn't even aware of just how loud the beating was in his ears.
The ring seems to weigh down his pocket. He is so acutely aware of it he shifts in his seat as if to ease the weight on that side. Distribute the panic evenly.
"What's wrong?" she asks and he barely knows how to answer the question.
"Nothing," he says, but the roaring in his ears is back. "Nothing."
"Maybe we need to get back home and find a way to ease the tension."
Her smile is infectious and the invitation is warming and he feels a certain stirring just below his gut.
"I love you," he says. "I love you."
Her fingers find his and he finds some courage in that connection.
"I had to go to a war zone to find peace. To find you."
The words come from somewhere and he pulls the ring box from his pocket and flips it open with his other hand.
"Will you marry me?"
He wanted to ask her after the meal. He wanted to be walking with her along the garden path just outside this restaurant with the twinkling lights that look like a romantic's ideal. He wanted to make sure everything was perfect.
He wants this.
But the ring has been weighing him down and he panicked and for once, Seeley Joseph Booth has lost control in this relationship.
The pounding in his ears reaches a crescendo and he takes a deep breath and begins to try this again when she gives him the answer.
And the dam breaks.
For several weeks he feels lighter somehow. His life is in order. Hannah has compromised to stay in Washington, to stay with him.
He feels loved. Wanted. Desired.
Telling Bones was hard, but somehow she made it easy. There is almost a wistfulness in her congratulations. But he can count on her honesty and if anything, she is honestly happy for him.
Later, much later, he will learn that it is her idea to celebrate the engagement at the Founding Fathers one night after work. Because Cam is the first at the door to congratulate them he assumes his oldest friend has engineered the party and doesn't look any farther. There is the whole squint squad. The FBI faithful turn out. Jared is there with Padme. And Pops.
The champagne flows and the toasts are heartfelt.
He isn't quite drunk when Bones stands to toast them, but in some ways he wishes he was. Her words are sincere and kind and generous. Her eyes linger for only a moment—he knows that she has built up walls to protect herself from him—but she has never wavered all these weeks from being his friend. And her words touch him.
The mad experiment to have Hannah help Brennan find a boyfriend has long since fallen by the wayside and she is dateless at the celebration, but she is not alone. Max almost never leaves her side and Angela and Cam have created a kind of shield around her when he is not there. Even Hodgins seems as protective of her as he is of his wife.
There are different kinds of families, Bones.
In many ways, she is the glue that holds this family unit together. Her mad skills make so much of what they do possible. Make what he is doing with Hannah possible.
He has almost expected her to take off for some farflung corner of the world if only to escape the new madness that surrounds the wedding plans.
But she holds firm. He tries to spare her as much of the craziness as possible, but Hannah insists on including her and Brennan is gracious in offering her help.
When she appears distracted one day as they are chasing down leads, he begins to wonder if she is about to fall apart again. Only later, much later, does he learn that Haley, her niece, has had a medical setback and Bones disappears for a few days with Max to help her brother and his family through the crisis.
It just so happens that Hannah is out of town as well and Cam is off visiting colleges with Michelle. Sweets has teeter-tottered back to Daisy. Rebecca and Parker have taken one of those trips to Boston.
And something inside him seems off-kilter.
He's felt it on and off for some time now, but he has put it down to pre-wedding jitters and the balancing act he's been performing with Bones.
It shouldn't surprise him that he looks for some company—even the company of strangers—at a new sports bar he's heard about at the office. Over 200 inches of high definition action on the screen and he finds himself perched at a table watching the action on the ice feeling as if he's there.
A Rangers fan, he starts a conversation with a man wearing another team's colors and before the evening is out, he's won enough money to cover his drinks.
For the better part of the week while Hannah is on a press junket and Bones is in North Carolina with her brother and his family, he finds his way to the sports bar and usually comes away with more money than he left with.
He's got Hannah. A wife to be. A mostly intact partnership. A good job. A great kid.
He's got control.
When Hannah returns, he stays in the first night, but cajoles her to go with him the second night.
He's part of this crowd. He's the man with the lucky gut who has conquered the last remaining hurdles for his happily ever after.
His gut doesn't fail him and he makes love to Hannah that night feeling like nothing can bring him down.
His winning streak ends, but he doesn't quite notice.
Bones is dating a science fiction writer and he can't help wonder if she's setting him straight on the science. He doesn't want to think beyond that.
According to Sweets who got his information from Daisy who overheard a conversation between Angela and Bones, the relationship is slowly developing. His own background check turns up nothing more than a couple of parking tickets.
She is unusually quiet about her date.
Hannah's trips out of town seem more frequent, but the returns are filled with nights of making up for lost time.
His pockets are lighter when he comes home from the sports bar. He's been playing pool in the back room when the action on the screen sees his teams losing.
One night he loses everything.
He's sure it's because he's rusty at pool and takes an afternoon to bone up on his skills.
It helps. For a night or two.
But he loses big on what he thought was a sure thing on the third night and he drives home broke.
It happens again and again. When Hannah isn't in town he stays out late and tries to regain what he has lost.
One night he wins over $7500 at sports betting and pool only to lose that and more the next night.
Bones notices something is off, but he dismisses her. The balancing act between them is tested when, in typical Bones fashion, she won't let it go.
He borrows from the wedding fund sure that with a few wins he can pay it back.
And he loses that.
Hannah comes back from her trip excited about a potential honeymoon trip to Tahiti. His run of bad luck makes a trip to the corner store out of the question and his control starts to crack.
He has a fight with Hannah over something he isn't quite sure what.
Bones asks him about his snippy attitude and he shuts her down, threatening to keep her in the lab. He's hurt her, but a part of him knows that with some time he can get his winning streak back and he can make amends.
He's got to get the streak back.
Part of him doesn't care. It's odd, but just the chase looking for luck is enough. He's starting to feel alive again.
Part of him cares, cares deeply. He can see just how fragile his partnership with Brennan is still, but he pummels it with both fists and in one very dramatic flare up, he sends her back to the lab angry and hurt and confused.
When Sweets pops up concerned about the partnership, he threatens to pop him with his gun.
He hasn't done that in years to the kid.
He plays a few games of pool at a dive down the street from his apartment and makes back a few bucks to seed his next streak.
He stands up Cam's invitation for drinks to win a few dollars playing poker.
He blows off completing some paperwork with Brennan to win a few dollars on the Nationals.
He has just enough to cover the check when Hannah brings some colleagues along to the Founding Fathers for dinner.
And he's never felt more alive.
There's a nagging voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like Bones' when he loses almost $13,000 in a streak of the worst luck imaginable.
There's no money for the wedding, honeymoon or next month's rent.
His credit card is maxed out.
He's been eyeing the tip jar at the local donut shop.
And he's not done yet.
He's at work when they come to his apartment looking for the money he's borrowed over the last few weeks.
And Hannah's home.
They scare her, take her laptop and a few signed sports items.
He gets her first phone call.
Bones gets the second.
His partner's assessment is short, unsweetened and to the point: "Booth is a degenerate gambler," she tells Hannah.
Hannah had no idea.
Brennan, who has been under attack of late, has crossed her arms in front of her body like a shield waiting for his verbal assault. Hannah is hugging herself.
"I can handle this," he lies.
"I need my laptop," Hannah repeats. But she refuses to look his way. "They have my laptop. My notes. My story."
"How much do you owe, Booth?" Brennan won't budge.
"I can get it back," he lies again.
Hannah has some control and looks for the bank book which held the funds for their wedding ceremony, the reception, the honeymoon.
She finds it. She finds the past due notices.
"I can fix this," he lies again.
The third lie is the charm because it is enough to make Hannah break apart.
"No. No. You've done enough, Seeley Booth."
The words slice into him. Bones has taken the bankbook and the statements from her and has probably calculated how much money will make this right.
But there's a balance sheet that will never be set right.
He sees just how deeply this betrayal has hurt Hannah.
He cannot read the look on Bones' face.
For a moment, they are caught in some kind of anomaly. He's been pulling Hannah closer while pushing Bones away to maintain this illusion and somehow everything is unraveling.
"I. . . what are we going to live on, Seeley? Love?" Her voice rises and takes on that odd accent that peppers the edges of her words when she is emotional. "Temperance, can I stay with you?"
She nods and Hannah retreats into the bedroom to pack.
"Who do you owe money to, Booth?"
"I'll get the money, Bones."
She is surprisingly well-versed in the psychology of addiction and recites enough information that effectively short-circuits any argument he might muster. It is cold, hard psychology and he almost wants to laugh at his favorite weapon being used against him.
"You don't have any money and you don't have any assets that can be brought to bear against the sum you owe. None that I can see." She is unrelenting in the brutal honesty. "Who do you owe money to, Booth?"
"It's not something you want to get involved in, Bones." It is a plea, a statement, a warning.
"I'm already involved."
He is sitting in a Gambler's Anonymous meeting, when she walks in. Her eyes sweep the room, observant as always, until they light on him and he wonders if the emptiness in his gut will ever go away when he sees she is alone.
"Hannah wouldn't come," she says as she slides into the seat next to him. "I'm sorry."
He's been going to meetings for a month now and Hannah still refuses to talk to him. She's buried herself in work and he doesn't even know if she'll ever feel anything but betrayed.
"You didn't have to come, Bones."
She says nothing, but shrugs slightly.
Without asking, she has made it her duty to see him through this. Whatever this is.
She and her father.
Between them they found the guys who took Hannah's laptop with all her notes. Max cajoled them and she settled the debts.
Then handed him a promissory note for $14,470.
Somehow, the desire to gamble has faded away and as he's slowly paying her back, he's come to realize that his desire for Hannah is fading as well.
The emptiness lingers as he tries to sort out his feelings, make sense of everything.
He tried to tell Bones he felt like a pinball for a time there, batted around by fate into this direction and that, out of control and yet thinking that he was in control.
In typical Bones' fashion, she called it a paradox that made little sense since people choose their own direction in life and have to live with the consequences of their choices.
And in their typical fashion, they had lightly tossed the argument around like a football he might toss around with his son.
And it feels good.
He's noticed little things about his partner in this past month. There's less wariness around him than he deserves. There's a softness around other people, people in the lab mostly. An affection. It is palpable.
Hannah finally comes around and they talk.
She tells him that it is Temperance's idea. Temperance has been his advocate. She's explained how he is ill. Wouldn't she still love him if he had the flu? Chicken pox? Cancer?
She has laid out a case for him. He is honorable and kind. Fair and fearless. Tough and loving. Temperance has made a rational argument for them. Them. Seeley and Hannah.
They talk into the night and into the morning.
By that evening she is back.
It takes several nights, but eventually they make love.
It is a night after a meeting in which he has shared a story in group. Bones is spending the night in New York to discuss her novel. She is part of a panel of writers selected to provide insights to a group of fledgling writers at some university.
And all he can imagine is that she is with her science fiction writer.
When he makes love to Hannah, it is mechanical and flat and nothing at all like they have managed in the past.
In the past it was always something else. Just not this. Not this.
Hannah says it is because they still have issues.
She flees to the bathroom as he tries to feel something.
Two weeks into trying, they call it quits. What started out with a bang ends with a whimper. Hannah quips that they were only staying together for the children.
They were only staying together for Temperance. Brennan. Bones.
The emptiness is still there when he helps her to a cab and watches it drive off toward the airport.
She is putting thousands of miles between them as she heads for a new assignment in South Korea.
The emptiness of the apartment hits him full force as he first tries his sponsor then Cam.
His voice becomes part of the vacuum of their voicemails.
He heads to a meeting. He sits in the back and feels the old restlessness hit him. The hollowness comes roaring back and he wants to fill it with something.
He stays behind and talks and goes out to coffee with a couple of the others. Before they part, one of them looks him straight in the eye and tells him to call a friend. Anyone.
He calls his partner.
She slides into the seat opposite him and accepts a stained coffee cup and the brew they pass for coffee and listens as he talks.
He pours out the litany of dreams and hopes and plans he had had being with Hannah that have all evaporated.
It is late and he wants to ask why she is dressed as she is. A soft scent of perfume hints at something more. Someone better than him.
Part way through his pity party, the phone rings and they are off to solve a case.
Other mysteries hang unsolved between them.
They fall into an uneasy rhythm now. The wariness is back. The boundaries have returned.
They've been there since Hannah's arrival, especially since Brennan's breakdown, but now he can see the edges clearly since Hannah has left.
He catches his comments on them at times and sees a hint of sadness in her eyes. Regret. Then the steely gates are banged into place and he stands alone on the other side.
It is at the hospital, the night that Angela gives birth, that he meets Brennan's science fiction writer. He is tall and sandy haired, attentive and polite. Cam and Hodgins and Sweets all seem to have met him before.
He is in Brennan's wake as she sweeps in. The deep purple dress hugs her curves. Mark Runyan is dressed in a tux.
They are overly dressed for waiting in the hospital.
He's made some headway in repaying Brennan for the loan. The CD that he'd been faithfully rolling over year after year has matured and he has left a check for her at
the lab. He's feeling better about himself. About life. They harnessed a killer this morning and this evening a new life is about to emerge.
It is a balance he likes.
But when Brennan rushes into the hospital waiting room, smelling of stardust and possibilities in a dress that offers no room to doubt what those possibilities are, something in his gut twists.
He is off balance. Again.
He's somewhat relieved when Mark leaves after a brief introduction, bending to kiss Brennan on the cheek and squeezing her hand before he casts them a wave goodbye.
"Runyan's got to run? Can't even stay for the show. Certainly he's dressed to make a good impression."
Cam throws him a warning shot, and Sweets looks like he swallowed something sour, but Brennan gives him only a glance. "It's his foundation's benefit, Booth. He wanted to make sure I got here safely."
The nurses come to collect Hodgins who looks like he is on vibrate and they settle in for the wait.
Cam and Brennan sit side by side in quiet conversation while he paces and Sweets scrolls through his phone messages.
Within the hour Daisy arrives to keep Sweets company and in her exclamations at Brennan's attire he learns that she's come from a benefit for disadvantaged youth. Daisy's words tumble out and she spills enough information to fill in what his background check missed.
The twist in his gut tightens as he realizes that they've been together now for several months.
It's the longest he's known her to be in a relationship.
A nurse comes to collect Brennan- Angela wants to see her in her finery and she acquiesces. With an elegance that belies her surroundings, she practically glides toward the delivery suite.
"Isn't she just so gorgeous and sexy in that dress?" Daisy comments, her admiration palpable.
By God, he wishes he could say no.
The night drags into morning and the newest squint announces her presence with a healthy cry that seems to chase all thoughts from his mind but one- this is the true beauty of life. He glances at Brennan who is cradling her godchild- their godchild- and he sees all the missed chances between them over the years in the moment. The sperm donation. The tumor. The coma dream. The night at the Egyptian exhibit. The night outside the Hoover.
They have been like two pinballs, released at different points in the machine and never quite in sync. Never quite following the same trajectory.
Brennan's managed to change into scrubs so she looks like one of the doctors, her dress forgotten across the back of the couch. But she is radiant as she gazes in wonder at the newest member of their family. Hodgins is cradling Angela who accepts the dozing infant into her arms from her best friend. And a kiss.
They are two very different people. One science, the other art. Intellect and talent. Emotion and rationality. Sensation and logic. And they are best friends. Sisters almost.
And somehow they have made their friendship work.
He envies the ease they have with one another. He stares at Brennan for a moment and catches her eye and for a while they are one again. The past is just that, the past. He smiles at her and she answers with a smile that is full of stardust and possibilities.
And for a moment, he believes again.
He drives Cam home then swings around and heads toward Brennan's apartment. She's slipped into the dress again and he follows her as she walks from the elevator, her shoes in hand. There's a simple easiness as he takes the key from her and unlocks the door and smells the stardust as she passes him into the apartment.
"Help yourself to anything in the refrigerator," she calls as she heads toward her bedroom to change.
"Do you want to get some breakfast?" he calls back, the beauty of the baby making him feel flush and full and free when he notices a novel on her island. Deadline X pops off the cover in letters made of machine parts and when he flips it open he sees the signature: "To Temperance, with my love. Mark."
Suddenly his mouth is dry and the twisted part of his gut knots tighter.
"It's a good book," she announces. He's been standing at the island, his hand playing at flipping the cover open and watching it close only to flip it open again as if to mock himself.
She is standing at the edge of her kitchen dressed in jeans and a blouse. She pulls on a jacket. "Do you want to read it? Mark's a very good writer."
There is something unsaid in her words, something that threatens to unhinge this truce they've maintained.
"The science is probably crap," he offers, uncertain how to ask the question he wants answered.
"No, not really," she counters. She sketches a portrait of the man she's been seeing- a Ph.D. in physics. A Rhodes scholar. A world traveler. A man of letters.
He's not pissed away his chances for happiness by doubling down on a war zone romance and losing his shot at happiness.
He's been standing there for too long and staring for too long and he knows that she's not nearly as clueless as one might think. She's been remarkably good at reading him. Even lately.
"You said something about breakfast?"
"If you drive, I'll treat for breakfast."
Maybe it was Angela who told her to do it or Sweets, but she's been doing this more and more: setting boundaries for them. A division of labor.
He holds his position for a second too long and she reads him again. "I can make something here, Booth, but I don't have all that greasy animal fat that you enjoy eating."
She is teasing him and it takes a moment longer before it registers.
"If you're too tired, Booth. . . ."
"No. No. We should eat something. We still have to finish the paperwork."
He begins to think of a 1001 reasons just to crawl into bed and crawl out past noon after he's had a chance to clear his mind. Something has been rattling around there since last night and he's afraid it might pop out.
"Was it a nice benefit?" he asks later as he points the SUV toward the Royal Diner.
The scent of her perfume lingers and he watches as she stifles a yawn while nodding. "I was more excited to see the baby."
Her smile is genuine and contemplative and beautiful.
Certainly he could get lost in that smile, but he finds that it is not nearly enough to drive the question he wants answered from his head.
"They're doing it the right way," he offers.
"Natural childbirth in a hospital suite with all the amenities of. . . ?"
"No, Bones. Too literal." He resets his opinion. "I mean they're married and friends and they absolutely are married. . . ."
His words have double backed on him and he tries to grab the tail of his thought.
"You mean they love each other."
Even in her own foggy state, she is still a genius. She can see the truth and cut through layers of sleeplessness to see it.
He lets his eyes linger a bit longer than he's done lately. And she holds his eyes with her own a bit longer than she's done lately.
"Angela says that love is the glue."
The artist has boiled down the essence of a happy life to a single metaphor.
"So, they're glued together?"
It's silly to play this game, but she's smiling and there's a moment when they've stepped into the wayback machine and found a pure emotion untainted by all the crap that they've both done in the past.
"By love," she accedes.
He's parked the SUV at the Jeffersonian and they walk back toward the diner. Spring is beginning to win sway over winter and the day is one of those that requires an open jacket to catch the warming breezes and hold them close like a hug.
They do not touch as they make their way toward the diner. It's been a while since he's felt he's earned the right to touch her. And she does not reach out for him.
Instead they slide into their respective seats and place their orders. Somehow the food emboldens him or fuels his insanity because he asks the question he's been dying to ask.
"So how long have you and Mark been sleeping together?"
He meant "seeing each other," but this is the question he really wants answered. He wants to know if she is as enamored of him as he seems to be of her. With my love, Mark.
The truce is shot. He earns the glare that she returns. "He's a friend, Booth."
Each word is said distinctly. The fruit medley she seems to have been enjoying is pushed aside and she digs in her pocket for some money that she tosses onto the table. "I need to get back to the lab."
He catches up to her after he has finished his coffee and eaten a few more bites of his eggs. Inside the diner his pace is slow, methodical. Outside, he quickens his pace and is almost in a run when he catches her just outside the museum where the fountains have yet to be turned on for the warmer months.
With one hand on her elbow, he turns her to face him and he can see the fury that have deepened the color in her eyes.
"You don't have the right to ask that question."
In the past, Temperance Brennan would have told him the moment she began sleeping with him, but the present Temperance Brennan has become more guarded, less free with these details.
"I am your friend, Bones."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
In a flash she is livid and listing all the deficiencies in his statement. In his friendship.
They sting for all the truth she delivers. He returns her verbal punches, pointing out the secret little hurts, the glaring lapses that genius that she is, she has delivered with deadly accuracy over the years.
In seconds they are trading verbal blows like the Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots that he and Jared had as kids.
They have bickered over the years. They have punished each other. They have been brutally honest.
But none of that is nearly as devastatingly harsh or angry or true as everything that spills out between them.
Fury is fueled by pain and sleeplessness and something else buried underneath all the bile that they hurl at each other. Standing toe to toe they do not hold back but unleash 7 years of slights and sorrow and hurt. When they get to that night outside the Hoover, she has dissolved into tears, but she won't quit as she pummels him for giving up on her and parading around his girlfriend and seeking her help when he gambles away that life. His own tears are flowing when he accuses her of being a coward, of not trusting him, of not believing in all the things he's tried to teach her over the years.
By the time they are finished hurtling stinging bolts of fury, they are spent and panting, eyes overflowing.
There is nothing more. They have unearthed all the remains of pain and hurt. They have exposed all the skeletons.
They are hollow shells that collapse into the other's arms.
"I love you," he whispers against her neck. "I want you to love me."
He can feel her tears wetting his collar and tracing lines down his neck. They are warm on his skin.
"I want to do that, Booth. I want to."
Brennan is holding the baby as a minister, a shaman, and someone he is sure is an Internet-licensed voodoo doctor are blessing the child. Hodgins may have won out on the hospital delivery, but Angela has her say on the child's spiritual pathway.
He stands next to Brennan, no room for the Holy Spirit between them as each spiritual guide completes their ritual.
The baby gurgles happily, unaware that a confirmed atheist is holding her as three religious officials set her soul a pathway.
It is a day filled with promises.
Hodgins beams almost as brightly as Angela as they wait for the minister to finalize the ritual and anoint the baby's head with a cross and a hope.
They recite their lines and except for the words about God, Brennan promises to provide guidance for this tiny being. He knows how she feels to carry the enormous weight of responsibility for another person.
It is what he is feeling now for Brennan. For them.
He knows that baptism is a statement of faith. A promise. As he says the words for the littlest squint, he catches Brennan's eyes.
She may not believe in God. But she believes in them.
And that is all that he wants. That is all that he needs.