Thanks for the reviews. As promised, here is the final (fluffy) chapter. Hopefully it's worth the wait, which you can blame on me starting a new job. ;)
The back door swung open and a tiny figure emerged from the house.
"Celia!" her mother's voice called after her. "Celia, come back inside! You're not dressed appropriately for this weather!"
The little girl – who was only wearing her diaper and a grubby yellow t-shirt – shrieked in triumph when she spotted her father and brother. They were camped out at the long table, blowing up balloons for the party the family was hosting later that day. Booth broke into grin as his daughter changed directions, toddling across the deck towards them as fast as her short legs could carry her.
To her mother's pride and dismay, not only was C.C. an early walker, but she seemed to have inherited Brennan's wilful stubbornness. Since she became mobile, a great deal of Booth's, Brennan's, and sometimes even Parker's time was spent chasing her from room to room while she fled from baths, naps, and anything else that she decided to boycott.
"Celia!" Brennan called again, appearing in the doorway behind her, her voice rising in exasperation. "I told you to come back here. You need to sleep or you'll be irritable tonight."
"Relax, Bones – she's fine," Booth assured her, holding his arms out to catch their daughter as she hurtled towards him. "Aren't you, boo boo? You can share Daddy's coat." He hoisted her up onto his lap, pulling the edges of his coat around her so that only her big blue eyes and the top of her auburn head were visible.
Brennan crossed the deck to where her family was sitting. "You know I hate it when you call her that, Booth," she complained with a wry smile.
"You also hate it when I call her C.C." he reminded her.
"Her name is Celia," she protested feebly for what he was sure must be the billionth time by now.
"So you keep telling me."
"Only because you never use it."
"I never use your name either, Bones," he teased her, emphasising the moniker that he'd given her.
She sighed. "I gave up trying to win that battle seven years ago."
"Well you can forget about winning this one as well because she's my little C.C. boo boo, aren't you?" he crooned, plastering the baby's face with wet, noisy kisses while she squirmed and squealed with delight.
He glanced up at Brennan in time to catch her rolling her eyes in mock annoyance. "You do that on purpose, just to irritate me."
He flashed her his most disarming grin. "Never."
She rewarded him with a crooked grin of her own. "Your father is a liar, Celia," she told their daughter without taking her eyes off Booth.
Still shaking her head, she turned in a slow half circle to survey the deck. "It looks like you're almost done," she remarked.
Booth caught his son's eye across the table. "Well we make a pretty good team, don't we, bub?"
Parker nodded. "Uh huh," he agreed, tying off the end of his balloon and adding it to the ever-growing pile on the table. "Do you like it, Bones?"
Brennan smiled. "Yes. Both of you did excellent work."
Parker looked relieved. "Does that mean I can go inside and play Playstation now?" he asked, already half rising from his chair.
"Is spending time with your old man really that bad?" Booth complained, feigning hurt. At nine years old, his son was already looking for ways to assert his independence. He was glad that was still a long way off with C.C.
Parker looked uncertainly from Booth to Brennan and back again.
"Booth, let him go," Brennan laughed. As Parker made a beeline for the house, she called after him, "You may eat one cupcake, but the rest are for the party."
His only acknowledgement was a shouted "Awesome! Thanks!" as he disappeared into the kitchen, the door slamming in his wake.
"What do you think, Miss C.C.? Does it meet your approval?" Booth asked his daughter when he was gone, offering her one of the balloons. As soon as it was in her hands, she let it drift to the deck at his feet, blinking in surprise when it burst. Booth held his breath, waiting for the tears to start, but she just glanced up at him with a toothy grin as if to ask if she could do it again.
"Her vocabulary is extremely limited, Booth," Brennan reminded him. "Even if she could understand what you're asking, she would still lack the vocal skills to formulate an intelligible response."
"I just wanna make sure today is a day that she'll never forget." Their little girl was already growing up and he was determined to enjoy it all while he could.
"The limbic system doesn't develop until the age of at least two so it's unlikely that she will remember any of this," she informed him.
"It's our daughter's first birthday, Bones. Can we leave 'Dr. Brennan' at the lab? You're not a scientist today, okay? Today you're just 'Mommy'. Here." He slipped his arms out of his coat and wrapped it around their daughter, handing her off to Brennan while he finished hanging the balloons.
She settled C.C. on her hip, her expression changing, growing soft as the baby sagged against her, pressing her cheek to her shoulder. "Look, Celia," she said in what Booth liked to call her 'Mommy voice' even though she swore that she didn't have one. Despite her frequent lectures on 'motherese' and its impact on their daughter's verbal development, he often caught her talking to her that way. "Look at all the aesthetically-pleasing decorations your father and Parker put up just for you. They did a good job, didn't they? Although it is a gender-based assumption that just because you're female, you must be partial to the colour pink. I myself prefer green."
She trailed off when she noticed Booth raising his eyebrow at her."What?"
"How is that any different to what I just did?" Sure she'd used bigger words, but the general gist was the same.
"You asked her for her opinion."
"So did you," he pointed out. "You realise she has no idea what you're talking about when you say things like 'aesthetically-pleasing' and 'gender-based assumption'?"
"I just don't want her to feel constrained by traditional gender norms, Booth," she explained with a troubled expression that made him smile.
Any apprehension that he'd felt at the beginning had evaporated over the past twelve months as he watched her grow into her new roles as a mother and stepmother. "Somehow, I'm not worried about that."
That evening, Booth stood at the head of the table with Brennan, surveying the eclectic group of people gathered on the deck. There was him, Brennan, C.C., and Parker, of course, Max, Russ and Amy and their children, Pops, Jared and Padme, Angela and Hodgins, Cam and Michelle, Sweets and Daisy and other assorted squinterns.
He tapped his glass with his spoon to get their attention, waiting until everyone's eyes were on him to begin. "Bones and I would like to thank you all for coming here today to celebrate our beautiful daughter Celia Christine Brennan-Booth – known to most of you as C.C. –'s first year of life. We're very lucky to have such wonderful family and friends."
Beside him, Brennan looked down at their daughter – who was seated in her lap, sucking on the chunky pendant of her necklace – and smiled, smoothing a cowlick tenderly back from her forehead. She whispered something into her ear that he couldn't quite catch, punctuating it with a soft kiss to her temple.
"With that in mind, I would like to propose a toast. To C.C. – may she be as lucky as we are."
His words were followed by a chorus of 'To C.C.'s from everyone except Brennan, who obstinately insisted on 'To Celia'.
After dinner, Brennan brought out the cake and once all of the guests were served, she allowed C.C. to mash the leftovers gleefully with her fists.
When the party moved into the house, all three of them – Booth, Brennan and Parker – took turns sitting on the living room floor with her, unwrapping her gifts and showing them to her. As far as Booth could tell, her favourite was the baby doll that Cam and Michelle had picked out for her, which he was sure Brennan would have plenty to say about. She carried it around with her for the rest of the night, dragging it along the carpet behind her when she was too tired to hold it up anymore.
Later, when everyone had gone home or to their hotels, and the kids were upstairs asleep, C.C. with the doll tucked into her crib beside her, Booth and Brennan worked together in silence to gather up the trash and put the empty plates and glasses into the dishwasher. The decorations, they would leave until morning, when Booth figured they could just set Parker loose on the balloons. What nine-year-old boy wouldn't love that?
"What a day, huh?" he said, shoving aside a pile of pink and white wrapping paper so that he could sit down.
Brennan dropped into the space beside him, hugging a throw cushion to her chest. "Celia seemed to enjoy herself. Although I doubt she understands why everyone was being so indulgent of her, she appears to derive satisfaction from being the centre of attention."
"I wonder where she gets that from?" he teased her, bumping her shoulder with his. "Because, you know, it wasn't me."
"I'm a world-renowned forensic anthropologist and a bestselling author," she reminded him. "The attention I receive comes from being exceptional in my field."
"Yeah, but admit it, you like it."
"Of course I like it," she agreed. "I worked hard to establish myself in my career."
"As much as you like this kind of attention?" He leant over and kissed her sweetly.
She grinned as he pulled back. "No. This kind of attention is much better."
He closed the distance between them, kissing her again, more leisurely this time, until she pushed him away gently but firmly. "Can I ask you something?"
He was tempted to point out that she just did, like she would have if the situation were reversed, but sensing that whatever she wanted to talk about was serious, he held his tongue. "Shoot."
Her brows knitted together in confusion. "I'm assuming since you don't have your gun that you mean that metaphorically?"
"What was the question you wanted to ask me, Bones?" he repeated in plain English this time.
"Do you still have that ring?"
"The one you bought when I was pregnant with Celia."
In the year since their daughter was born, he'd successfully managed to forget its existence, contenting himself with the fact that they were committed to each other in every other way but in God's eyes and the law. "It's in the gun safe. Why?"
She fixed him with a meaningful look. "I'm ready for you to give it to me now."
It took him a moment to process her words and then he could barely contain his grin. "Bones, are you serious? You want me to propose to you?"
She looked slightly taken aback by his question. "Why would I say it if I wasn't serious?"
"What I mean is, you're sure? Because honestly, Bones, I don't think I could take it if you turned me down a second time."
She nodded. "After considering it carefully, I have decided that I would like to marry you before giving birth again," she explained.
"You're not…? You're pregnant?" he asked, struggling to reign in his enthusiasm at the idea.
"No, not yet," she assured him, "but I would like to begin trying to conceive again as soon as possible." She searched his expression, sounding less sure of herself as she added, "That is if you still want another child?"
"Hell yeah," he told her, drawing out the last word. He couldn't think of anything better than another little boy or girl with her and C.C.'s brilliant blue eyes. "As long as I get to knock you up the old-fashioned way this time."
"Of course," she agreed seriously. "Although I object to your use of that colloquialism," she added, wrinkling her nose in distaste. "I'm glad that we're in agreement, because with your approval, I would like to cease using preventative measures."
"You mean you wanna throw away your birth control pills?"
"That's what I said."
"Sure, I told you, I'm ready whenever you are, but didn't you just say you want to get married first?" When she first said that she wanted to try, he figured she meant in a few months, when things had settled down.
"It's unlikely that I'll become pregnant right away, Booth. It can take a healthy couple anywhere up to a year to conceive. We'll still have plenty of time to plan a wedding."
"You know, that's what you said last time and look what happened," he teased her. What a difference a year made. Before, he had dreaded the thought of a pregnancy, but now, he couldn't wait to see her like that again. She didn't believe him, of course, but he still maintained that she had never looked more beautiful than when she was pregnant.
"That was through intrauterine insemination. The odds were in our favour."
"And they're not this time?"
"We're both older now."
"Thirty-four isn't old, Bones. Trust me." He wished he was thirty-four. As thrilled as he was at the prospect of expanding their brood, he couldn't help thinking that he would be almost sixty by the time his third child graduated high school; older still if they decided to keep going.
"I'm almost thirty-five."
"A woman's fertility decreases rapidly once she reaches the age of thirty-five, while the risk of miscarriage and birth defects increases."
He took her hand, lacing his fingers gently through hers. "Hey, don't worry about it, okay? You already got pregnant once – there's no reason for us to think that it won't happen again or that we won't have another beautiful, healthy baby."
She stared down at her lap, avoiding his eyes.
"What?" he insisted, concerned that she was keeping something from him. "Whatever it is, Bones, you can tell me."
"In cases where the maternal age is more than thirty-five, it's considered a 'geriatric pregnancy'," she explained quickly, still not quite looking at him.
Was that all? "You're kidding me? That's why you're so desperate to get pregnant before your next birthday? Because you don't want some doctor calling you old?" He stifled a laugh at her stricken expression. "Does that mean instead of maternity clothes, we're gonna have to buy you a walking stick and some of those orthopaedic shoes?" He resisted the urge to make more jokes at her expense, cowed by the death glare she was giving him. "Sorry. I promise I won't make fun of you when you're pregnant."
"Angela says that it's traditional for women to relegate their mates to the couch when they act in a way that they deem to be insensitive. Perhaps you would like to sleep on the couch until the baby is born?" she suggested innocently.
"That's going to make it very difficult for you to get pregnant," he told her with a wicked smirk, confident that she wouldn't do anything of the sort.
"I'd forgotten what this feels like," Booth remarked, leaning back in his chair with a contented sigh.
It was New Years Eve, and he and Brennan were sitting at a window table of an Italian place a block over from their usual haunts, finishing their respective desserts.
"We eat at the diner all the time," Brennan pointed out, sipping her soda. Booth had tried to convince her that one glass of wine wouldn't hurt her since as far as they knew she wasn't actually pregnant yet, but she was adamant that alcohol could have a detrimental effect on a woman's fertility.
"With Parker and the baby," he reminded her. "When was the last time it was just the two of us?" The math wasn't that hard considering they had a one-year-old daughter at home. The only reason they were able to go out tonight was because Max had generously offered to give them a night to themselves in exchange for spending time with his favourite granddaughter.
"Dinners like this are likely to become less frequent once we have a newborn in the house again," she noted.
"That's why we should make the most of tonight," he agreed.
She leaned across the table towards him, her blue eyes dancing with mischief. "Are you suggesting that we have sex in the bathroom? Because that could be very exciting."
Trust her mind to go there. "I was thinking more like a walk," he explained. Not only would he prefer to make love to her in the privacy of their own home, but the ring was burning a – metaphorical – hole in the inside pocket of his jacket.
"Right," she said with a knowing grin. "You want to propose without creating a public spectacle."
While the proposal itself wouldn't come as a surprise, he had hoped to wait for a time when she wasn't expecting it. He should have known that she was too smart not to realise what he was up to. "Bones," he complained. "Can we just pretend that you don't know about that?"
She cringed slightly. "Sorry, Booth. You should carry on as planned. I won't mention it again."
He called for the check and handed over his credit card, relieved that she didn't try to challenge him over it. If ever there was a time to be gallant, it was the night you proposed to the woman you loved.
Outside the restaurant, she slipped her hand into his and they strolled aimlessly through the neighbourhood while he considered his options. She was right when she guessed that he wanted it to be intimate; somewhere beautiful and romantic but still private enough that they wouldn't be bothered by curious onlookers.
By Fate or just good luck, they ended up at the National Mall where they'd whiled away so many afternoons and evenings together before C.C.'s birth changed the dynamic of their relationship forever.
"Here?"she asked when he pulled her to a stop in front of "their" bench, seeming to forget her promise.
"Unless you have somewhere better in mind?"he agreed.
She shook her head. "Here is fine. Actually, here is perfect," she said, looking around.
"In that case…" He got down on one knee, reaching into his pocket for the ring; watching her watch him expectantly, he couldn't help but grin at the absurdity of the situation. It wasn't exactly traditional, but since when had they done anything according to tradition?"I had a speech prepared, but now that we're here, I think I just wanna speak from my heart," he told her. She opened her mouth to say something, but before she could correct him, he added, "I know the heart is only a muscle, but just go with it, okay, Bones?" There was nothing scientific about what he was asking her.
"Okay," she agreed, waiting patiently for him to continue.
"When we first got together, you asked me how you can be sure that you're in love with someone. Do you remember what I said?"
"You said you know when you can't imagine any future without that person in it."
"I meant every word of it," he assured her. "I want to make another baby with you and then I want to raise all three of our children with you. I want to grow old with you and make love with you and bicker with you every day for the rest of my life, because you're not just my partner, Bones, or my girlfriend, or the mother of my child, you're the best friend I've ever had, and I can't imagine my future without you." He cracked the lid of the box open, affording her her first real view of the ring. "Temperance Brennan, will you join me in the antiquated ritual of marriage?"
She laughed at his gentle ribbing, nodding vigorously. "I would be honoured, Booth," she told him, proffering her left hand. "And for the record, I concur with everything you just said."
Even though he'd already had a pretty good idea of what she was going to say, Booth felt his face split into a huge grin as he freed the ring from its cushion and slid it onto her finger. Then he scrambled back to his feet and took her in his arms, kissing her for the first time as her fiance.
When they finally broke from each other, still grinning like idiots, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, preparing to make their way back to the restaurant where his car was waiting for them. "Now that that's settled, what d'you say we go home and get to work on that baby?"
Thank you again to everyone who read and reviewed. This story is the longest thing I've ever written (this chapter brought it up to the 100,000 word mark), which wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the positive response I've received. I'm sad that it's over but it feels like the right time to let it go. Don't forget to check out my other fic 'Ten Days in Paradise'. I'm also working with my wonderful beta, uscgal04, on plotting the Broadsky fic I mentioned last time so look out for that too.