IX. Epilogue

November went older, as the quilt that was their relationship was sewed. A bottle of his aftershave moved into her bathroom. One stitch. Mix-colored peppers found a home in his fridge. Another stitch. The dizziness that overwhelmed him when she showed one of her bank statements to him. The snappy comment he managed to bite back. One more stitch.

The first fight, when she thought that everything was falling apart. His fierce embrace later which told her that it wasn't. A patch.

The sound of her fingers flying over the keyboard when she was working in the other room and he was watching a game on TV. Brightly colored yarn. The scent of her bath salt, the slippery satin of her skin when he was lolling in the tub with her. A different color.

The warmth of her body at night, the sleepy scent of her in the morning. The weekend stubble on his face which felt so rough when she grazed it with her lips. A grocery list that was the prospect of a shared Sunday: fluffy cotton wool that filled their quilt, made it soft and cozy.

Reality had caught up with them, but side by side they were facing it, forming it into their dream. Work was work, and their partnership hadn't changed, hadn't gotten less successful or more dangerous. Still, his protectiveness annoyed her beyond belief. Still, her squinty talk was a secret turn-on. Still, he refused to give her a gun.

However, when they went home at the end of the day, when he came to her or she to him – where didn't really matter because when they were together, it was home – the partners were left behind, making place for the lovers.

December came, bringing along the cold. Freezing degrees that made her eyes even paler, her cheeks even rosier. Winter scent that lingered in his hair, lingered in his coat when he hugged her in the evening. December deepened, and here and there the first traces of Christmas could be found.

Cinnamon on his lips, the scent of cookies in the air, the lingering sound of bells and Christmas carols in the streets. And then, one ordinary Wednesday afternoon, the sky opened and instead of rain white fluffiness was dancing in the air. Leaving his meeting with a lame excuse, Booth called her to tell her about the first snow, and, the cell phone pressed to her ear, Brennan watched the snowflakes falling down as his voice was caressing her.

She couldn't stop smiling. She couldn't stop telling him how much she loved him. She couldn't get enough of him saying just the same. She couldn't get enough of his kisses. She couldn't get enough of him.

Fortunately he seemed to feel just the same about her.

-BONES-

Then it was Christmas.

To his utter surprise Brennan had offered to accompany him to the midnight mess, and he was just a little bit nervous when she was sitting next to him in the candle-lit church, wearing her black coat, looking nothing but elegant. Every now and then her forehead furrowed in disapproval, but she didn't say anything, and when it was time to sing, he could even hear her clear voice.

The sound of bells followed them when they left the church after the Holy Mess, stepping into the dark, cold city night, and she linked arms with him while walking to his car. Booth was filled with utter peace because for once in his life Christmas was like it should be. Full of gratitude, full of love.

They drove home in silence, and in his apartment, their tree greeted them with bright holiday lights. It was a snapshot in time which he wanted to remember forever. They had one more silent night together, and in the morning he would pick up Parker, in the afternoon her father would come over. Booth was looking forward to spending time with his and her family which was slowly becoming their family, but right now he was more than happy to be alone with Brennan for a few more hours.

Approaching her, he wrapped his arms around her from behind, and she leaned back into his embrace, as they watched their tree.

For most of her life Christmas had been the essence of her darkest fear, reminding her of loneliness and abandonment. Until she had met him. His perception of Christmas had changed hers as well, and tonight she could feel it again. The joy, the hope, the love.

"Are you happy?" he finally asked, and she nodded slowly, her silky hair brushing his face.

"Very."

Turning around in his arms, she found his chocolate-brown eyes looking at her full of warmth, and – as always – her heart clenched. Lifting her head, she offered him her lips for a kiss, and then his soft mouth was caressing her, his raspy tongue was seeking hers, his palms roamed over her back.

Even though she'd lost count of their kisses over the last weeks, the sensation hadn't gotten ordinary – only more familiar.

When he was breaking the kiss, her whole body was tingling, her belly filled with sweet longing. In her former life, she'd have taken what she yearned for without further delay, but with Booth Brennan had learned to appreciate the slow kind of passion. Although – a wicked smile curved her lips at the memory – steamy minutes out of control against his wall, on her table or on the kitchen counter had their very own charm.

Making love didn't mean that it always had to be slow and tender because with him it could never be less than making love. And whenever she found his marks on her the morning after, they were proof of love as well.

However, tonight it was Christmas, and if there had ever been a silent night, it was now. Following him to his couch, she admired the strength he emanated, the determination in his steps. Seeley Booth was a big man, but there were moments – when he placed his head on her chest at night, when she cradled him in her arms – so very precious moments, when he allowed himself to be small, almost fragile in her embrace.

She loved him for that.

In front of the couch, he pulled her into his arms anew, swaying her in the soft light of their tree.

"Honey," he said, and his voice was as rich as the scent of fir needles in the air, "I know that technically it isn't Christmas morning, yet, but if it's okay, I'd like to give you your first present right now."

Her face lit up, and she nodded enthusiastically.

"It's after midnight, I'm sure that has to count."

He released her with a kiss, and while he was rummaging around in his bedroom, Brennan fetched her purse to get her present for him. He came back just after she had taken a seat on the couch, a little something in his hands, twisting it almost nervously before sitting down as well.

"Okay, Bones, before you open this, I'd like to say a few things."

Her eyebrows raised, but she didn't interrupt him.

"Baby, you know that I love you like a fool, and you'd probably freak out if you open that without fair warning. Okay, here's the deal."

He took a deep breath, but her smile encouraged him to go on.

"It's a ring."

Her eyes widened in panic, as her cheeks turned to a whiter shade of pale.

"Booth-"

Raising his hand, he stopped her.

"Temperance, I know you, and I know what you think about marriage. I'm not asking you to be my wife."

Some of the color came back into her face, but, still, she looked shell-shocked.

"You're wearing your mother's ring because it means something. I want you to wear mine as well. Just because I love you, and it means something," he whispered.

She just looked at him silently, and Booth broke out in a cold sweat, as he awaited her verdict. Eventually, she inhaled deeply and took the little box out of his hand. The gift wrap was crumpled; he had probably done it by himself, and the realization touched her. Her fingers were shaking somehow, as she opened the lid, and then a simple silver ring with a big, blue stone was dazzling her. It was beautiful, and she had to swallow against the lump in her throat.

Never before had she worn a man's ring, but it didn't take her more than one heartbeat to know that from now on she would forever wear his one. Lifting her gaze, she banished his anxiety with three simple words.

"I love it."

"You do?"

Sliding the ring on her middle finger, she spread her phalanges to enjoy the view.

"With all my heart."

A blink later she was in his arms, his lips grazing her ear.

"It reminded me of your eyes," he whispered, and when she peeked over his shoulder, she could see her own hand on his back, the new ring sparkling in the Christmas light. It was a perfect fit.

Freeing herself out of his arms, she grabbed her present and gave it to him.

"I have something for you as well."

"Yeah, a present!" he exclaimed, ripping open the paper with the impatience of a child.

"A book?"

Now she had to laugh at the dumb expression on his face.

"Not just a book. Open it."

Open it he did, and his breath faltered, as he saw his own smiling face.

"A photo album," he whispered almost reverently. "You've made me a photo album."

He found the Venetian lagoon, the curve of Santa Maria della Salute in the misty light, the gray of the Seine. His mind traveled back to the cobblestones of Lisbon, to the beach of Ericeira, and once more he looked at the Long Room of Dublin's Trinity College in awe. Her faint sunburn was there, and love was there. He found it in his eyes, he found it on her face, and he found it in the little shells and dried flowers she had added to the pages as well.

Love was in his kiss, as he lowered his lips to her, love was in every touch, every moan. The Christmas tree was their only witness, as they undressed each other, and when her alabaster white body was moving on top of him, when they were as intimately connected as possible, the ring never left its place on her hand.

It never would for the next thirty, forty, fifty years.

Together they had traveled a lot; from the dark, metaphorical place where people hurt each other over the sunny islands of friendship to the very real cites of Europe. They had seen rainbows, they had seen rain. They had crossed borders, explored foreign territory. However, the most beautiful of all places they had found deep inside of themselves.

Happy ground.

The End.

Sigh. Thanks for traveling with me.